A pine plantation in the United States
A pine plantation in the United States

A tree plantation, forest plantation, plantation forest, timber plantation or tree farm is a forest planted for high volume production of wood, usually by planting one type of tree as a monoculture forest. The term tree farm also is used to refer to tree nurseries and Christmas tree farms.

Plantation forestry can produce a high volume of wood in a short period of time. Plantations are grown by state forestry authorities (for example, the Forestry Commission in Britain) and/or the paper and wood industries and other private landowners (such as Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier and Sierra Pacific Industries in the United States or Asia Pulp & Paper in Indonesia). Christmas trees are often grown on plantations, and in southern and southeastern Asia, teak plantations have recently replaced the natural forest.

A plantation of Douglas-fir in Washington, U.S.
A plantation of Douglas-fir in Washington, U.S.

Industrial plantations are actively managed for the commercial production of forest products. Industrial plantations are usually large-scale. Individual blocks are usually even-aged and often consist of just one or two species. These species can be exotic or indigenous. The plants used for the plantation are often genetically altered for desired traits such as growth and resistance to pests and diseases in general and specific traits, for example in the case of timber species, volumic wood production and stem straightness. Forest genetic resources are the basis for genetic alteration. Selected individuals grown in seed orchards are a good source for seeds to develop adequate planting material.

Wood production on a tree plantation is generally higher than that of natural forests. While forests managed for wood production commonly yield between 1 and 3 cubic meters per hectare per year, plantations of fast-growing species commonly yield between 20 and 30 cubic meters or more per hectare annually; a Grand Fir plantation at in Scotland has a growth rate of 34 cubic meters per hectare per year (Aldhous & Low 2020), and Monterey Pine plantations in southern Australia can yield up to 40 cubic meters per hectare per year (Everard & Fourt 1974). In 2000, while plantations accounted for 5% of global forest, it is estimated that they supplied about 35% of the world's roundwood.[1]

Growth cycle

Main article: Silviculture

Some plantation trees, such as pines and eucalyptus, can be at risk of fire damage because their leaf oils and resins are highly flammable.[2][3] Conversely, an afflicted plantation can in some cases be cleared of pest species cheaply through the use of a prescribed burn, which kills all lesser plants but does not significantly harm the mature trees.

Types

Christmas tree farms

A Christmas tree farmer in the U.S. state of Florida explains the pruning and shearing process of cultivation to a government employee.
A Christmas tree farmer in the U.S. state of Florida explains the pruning and shearing process of cultivation to a government employee.

Christmas tree cultivation is an agricultural, forestry, and horticultural occupation which involves growing pine, spruce, and fir trees specifically for use as Christmas trees.

The first Christmas tree farm was established in 1901, but most consumers continued to obtain their trees from forests until the 1930s and 1940s. Christmas tree farming was once seen only as a viable alternative for low-quality farmland, but that perception has changed within the agriculture industry. For optimum yield and quality, land should be flat or gently rolling and relatively free of debris and undergrowth.

A wide variety of pine and fir species are grown as Christmas trees, although a handful of varieties stand out in popularity. In the United States, Douglas-fir, Scots pine and Fraser fir all sell well. Nordmann fir and Norway spruce sell well in the United Kingdom, the latter being popular throughout Europe. Like all conifers, Christmas trees are vulnerable to a range of pests.

The final stage of cultivation, harvesting, is carried out in a number of ways; one of the more popular methods is the pick-your-own tree farm, where customers are allowed to roam the farm, select their tree, and cut it down themselves. Other farmers cultivate potted trees, with balled roots, which can be replanted after Christmas and used again the following year

Eucalyptus

"...Eucalyptus groves seen in the region today (Atlantic Rainforest, 7/8th of which is gone) were planted where there was previously no forest cover. They're poor in biodiversity but contributed to the expansion of forest cover."— Fabien Hubert Wagner, forest cover study lead author at National Institute for Space Research - INPE Brazil

In the 20th century, scientists around the world experimented with Eucalyptus species. They hoped to grow them in the tropics, but most experimental results failed until breakthroughs in the 1960s-1980s in species selection, silviculture, and breeding programs "unlocked" the potential of eucalypts in the tropics. Prior to then, as Brett Bennett noted in a 2010 article, eucalypts were something of the "El Dorado" of forestry. Today, Eucalyptus is the most widely planted type of tree in plantations around the world,[4] in South America (mainly in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), South Africa, Australia, India, Galicia, Portugal and many more.[5]

Teak

Teak tree plantation
Teak tree plantation
Plantation teak is a tropical hardwood tree from the genus Tectona, endemic to Southeast Asia that is exclusively planted for the purpose of forestry management, for either commercial timber plantations or ecological restoration. Although the genus Tectona is native to the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, primarily Indonesia, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Thailand, the cultivation of plantation teak is economically viable in other tropical regions such as Central America.

Tree farming and climate change

A forest sequesters carbon in its trees. The forest removes carbon dioxide from the air as trees grow and returns it to the air as trees die and rot or burn. As long as the forest is experiencing net growth, the forest is reducing the amount of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, from the air. Furthermore, if timber is regularly removed from the forest and turned into lasting wood products, those products continue sequestering carbon, while the replacement tree farm trees absorb more carbon dioxide, thus effecting a continuous reduction in greenhouse gas.

Because tree farms are managed to enhance rapid growth, a tree farm tends to sequester carbon more quickly than an unmanaged forest, considering only the sequestration side of the equation and not the carbon release due to rot, fire, or harvest.[6] The fact that managed woodlands tend to be younger and younger trees grow faster and die less contributes to this distinction.[7]

While tree farms absorb large amounts of CO2, the long-term sequestration of this carbon depends on what is done with the harvested materials. Forests continue to absorb atmospheric carbon for centuries if left undisturbed.[8]

The USDA has an online calculator for how much carbon is sequestered in various types of forests.[9]

CO2 and forest health

Carbon dioxide is a primary building material for plant tissue and is required to make plants grow fast and strong, so presumably higher levels of CO2 in the air as a result of burning fossil fuels would make forests grow faster. Duke University did a study where they dosed a loblolly pine plantation with elevated levels of CO2.[10] The studies showed that the pines did indeed grow faster and stronger. They were also less prone to damage during ice storms, which is a factor that limits loblolly growth farther north. The forest did relatively better during dry years. The hypothesis is that the limiting factors in the growth of the pines are nutrients such as nitrogen, which is in deficit on much of the pine land in the Southeast. In dry years, however, the trees do not bump up against those factors since they are growing more slowly because water is the limiting factor. When rain is plentiful trees reach the limits of the site's nutrients and the extra CO2 is not beneficial. Most forest soils in Southeastern region are deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus as well as trace minerals. Pine forests often sit on land that was used for cotton, corn or tobacco. Since these crops depleted originally shallow and infertile soils, tree farmers must work to improve soils.

In addition to better fertilization, biosolids[11] present an innovative solution. Biosolids are treated sewage from municipal or agricultural sources such as chicken and hog operations in Virginia and North Carolina. Though biosolids have the potential to improve soils and lead to improved tree growth, barriers to adoption include regulation and inertia.

Natural forest loss

Many forestry experts claim that the establishment of plantations will reduce or eliminate the need to exploit natural forest for wood production. In principle this is true because due to the high productivity of plantations less land is needed. Many point to the example of New Zealand, where 19% of the forest area provides 99% of the supply of industrial round wood. It has been estimated that the world's demand for fiber could be met by just 5% of the world forest (Sedjo & Botkin 1997). However, in practice, plantations are replacing natural forest, for example in Indonesia. According to the FAO, about 7% of the natural closed forest being lost in the tropics is land being converted to plantations. The remaining 93% of the loss is land being converted to agriculture and other uses. Worldwide, an estimated 15% of plantations in tropical countries are established on closed canopy natural forest.

In the Kyoto Protocol, there are proposals encouraging the use of plantations to reduce carbon dioxide levels (though this idea is being challenged by some groups on the grounds that the sequestered CO2 is eventually released after harvest).

A tea plantation in Ciwidey, Bandung in Indonesia
A tea plantation in Ciwidey, Bandung in Indonesia

Ownership

Main article: Wood industry

As of 2019, an estimated 49% of forests in the United States are owned by families.[12]

Notable corporations include Greenwood Resources, which is owned by TIAA-CREF.[13]

Criticisms of plantations

In contrast to a naturally regenerated forest, plantations are typically grown as even-aged monocultures, primarily for timber production.

In the 1970s, Brazil began to establish high-yield, intensively managed, short rotation plantations. These types of plantations are sometimes called fast-wood plantations or fiber farms and often managed on a short-rotation basis, as little as 5 to 15 years. They are becoming more widespread in South America, Asia and other areas. The environmental and social impacts of this type of plantation has caused them to become controversial. In Indonesia, for example, large multi-national pulp companies have harvested large areas of natural forest without regard for regeneration. From 1980 to 2000, about 50% of the 1.4 million hectares of pulpwood plantations in Indonesia have been established on what was formerly natural forest land.

The replacement of natural forest with tree plantations has also caused social problems. In some countries, again, notably Indonesia, conversions of natural forest are made with little regard for rights of the local people. Plantations established purely for the production of fiber provide a much narrower range of services than the original natural forest for the local people. India has sought to limit this damage by limiting the amount of land owned by one entity and, as a result, smaller plantations are owned by local farmers who then sell the wood to larger companies. Some large environmental organizations are critical of these high-yield plantations and are running an anti-plantation campaign, notably the Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Forest loss". United Nations System-wide Earthwatch. United Nations Environment Programme. Archived from the original on January 6, 2010. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  2. ^ Wills, Matthew (2018-08-23). "How Eucalyptus Trees Stoke Wildfires". JSTOR Daily. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  3. ^ Brown, Marjie (July 2009). "In Plantations or Natural Stands: Ponderosa Is Programmed to Partner with Fire" (PDF). Fire Science Brief (56).
  4. ^ Bennett (2010)
  5. ^ "Global Eucalyptus Map 2009... in Buenos Aires!". GIT Forestry Eucalyptologics. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  6. ^ Bowyer, Jim. 2011. "Managing Forests for Mitigating Climate Change," Dovetail Partners.
  7. ^ McKinley, Duncan C.; et al. (2011). "A synthesis of current knowledge on forests and carbon storage in the United States" (PDF). Ecological Applications. 21 (6): 1902–1924. doi:10.1890/10-0697.1. PMID 21939033. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  8. ^ Luyssaert, Sebastiaan; -Detlef Schulze, E.; Börner, Annett; Knohl, Alexander; Hessenmöller, Dominik; Law, Beverly E.; Ciais, Philippe; Grace, John (11 September 2008). "Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks". Nature. 455 (7210): 213–215. Bibcode:2008Natur.455..213L. doi:10.1038/nature07276. PMID 18784722. S2CID 4424430.
  9. ^ USDA carbon sequestration calculator Archived 8 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Duke Study Shows Carbon Dioxide Boosts Pine Tree Reproduction". Sciencedaily.com. 16 August 2000. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  11. ^ Biosolids Workshop, Virginia Tech Archived 2 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "Family Forest Owners: The Critical Link to Forest Resources".
  13. ^ "Portland's GreenWood Resources nears $1B in timber assets". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved 2019-09-02.
  14. ^ Overbeek W. (2012). "An overview of industrial tree plantation conflicts in the global South. Conflicts, trends, and resistance struggles" (PDF). EJOLT. 3: 84.