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Forestry goes hi-tech with new partnership

BOOSTING forest productivity, technology, safety and skills, and reducing environmental impacts are at the heart of a new programme announced last week.

Te Mahi Ngahere i te Ao Hurihuri — Forestry Work in the Modern Age is a new $29.3 million, seven-year collaboration between Forest Growers Research Ltd (FGR), a consortium of forest owners and forestry machinery manufacturers, and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

It has its sights on developing a new in-forest harvesting and log-sorting system specific to New Zealand’s forests, using automation and robotics — a first for New Zealand.

“Technology is increasingly important in improving safety, skills and productivity, and protecting the environment,” FGR chief executive Russell Dale said.

“Our industry relies on people, but labour shortages and rising costs in harvesting forests and transporting logs are holding the industry back and reducing our ability to grow.

“Our new programme with MPI aims to automate the tasks after felling that have traditionally required substantial labour. These include log branding, log sorting and scaling,” Mr Dale said.

“We also want to boost the efficiency of forestry operations, take people away from hazardous harvesting roles and give them the skills they need for the future.”

MPI’s director investment programmes Steve Penno said at the heart of the new programme was creating sustainable benefits for New Zealand by delivering economic, environmental and social outcomes.

“This new programme brings key industry players together to tackle common challenges facing our forestry industry, and will deliver solutions that keep people safe and boost their skills and capability,” Mr Penno said.

“It’ll also help to bridge the gap between demand for our logs and the shortfall in labour. All of these are essential for a thriving forestry industry.

“The social, environmental and economic outcomes expected under the programme are at the core of the Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures Programme we launched last year.”

FGR harvesting programme manager Keith Raymond said as harvesting shifted to forests planted in the 90s and on to steeper land in smaller, more isolated holdings, the industry faced the challenge of reducing costs and improving efficiency to maintain its international competitiveness.

“Current technology and processes mean logs are handled between eight and 12 times before they’re loaded for export. This adds time and cost. Unless we make a fundamental shift in our forest harvesting operations, New Zealand may have difficulty meeting demand and remaining competitive. We believe our programme can deliver this shift.

“It will also help to maintain good momentum in forestry innovations and keep New Zealand at the forefront.”

MPI and the industry partners are finalising the contract for the programme, which is expected to deliver operational cost-savings across industry of $27.5m per annum by 2025, increasing to $76.8m per annum by 2031.

Dame Anne Salmond says no more taxpayer funding should go into establishing short-rotation, clear-felled, exotic monoculture plantation forests on highly erodible lands. "That would be crazy. It’s time to start planting the right trees in the right places." Picture supplied