Short-rotation trees hold promise for Louisiana landowners

Richard Bogren, Vlosky, Richard P., Blazier, Michael  |  8/25/2015 8:58:53 PM

LSU AgCenter forestry researcher Mike Blazier describes how short-rotation hardwood trees can be used for producing wood pellets for bioenergy. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

LSU AgCenter forestry researcher Todd Shupe, right, talks with Auburn University forest entomologist Lori Eckhardt, left, and Rich Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center in the LSU AgCenter, during a break at symposium featuring information on how forest landowners can take advantage of the emerging biobased fuel industry. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

Landowners, foresters and consultants listen during a presentation at a symposium that featured information on how forest landowners can take advantage of the emerging biobased fuel industry. (Photo by Rick Bogren, LSU AgCenter)

News Release Distributed 08/25/15

POLLOCK, La. – A movement in Europe from coal to wood-fired electric generation has created a worldwide market for wood pellets, according to experts at a recent symposium.

Planting and managing short-rotation stands of fast-growing hardwood tree species can help meet demands for wood pellets and similar products made from small diameter, pulpwood-sized trees in some regions, said AgCenter forestry researcher Mike Blazier.

The wood pellet industry in Europe is growing in an effort to reduce greenhouse gasses, said Rich Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center in the LSU AgCenter.

Drax Biomass has a facility in Bastrop and German Pellets is building facilities in Urania, Louisiana. Both are customers for Louisiana wood products, Vlosky said.

“The South is where the industry is clustered,” he said.

The symposium featured information on how forest landowners can take advantage of the emerging biobased fuel industry, said program organizer Todd Shupe with the AgCenter Forest Products Development Center.

The biennial event was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, southern Regional Extension Foresters, the Louisiana Forestry Association and the Louisiana Society of American Foresters.

Short-rotation trees are harvested in 10 to 12 years rather than the 25 to 30 years required to grow hardwood trees for saw lumber. “But we have to manage a forest to get that fast growth,” Blazier said. “We’re operating fiber farms.”

Growers need to start with species with good genetic potential, then use intensive management to produce a profitable crop. “With short-rotation hardwoods, we’re talking about pumping out a lot of biomass,” Blazier said.

Growing trees in this manner requires starting with a cleared landscape and treating it as if it were being planted to agricultural crops. Site preparation is key, he said.

“Growing short-rotation hardwood trees is more like farming,” he said. “You need good site preparation to manage vegetation, and most of these species are susceptible to weed competition.”

The most frequent management need in the first three years is weed control, Blazier said. “First- and second-year weed control has long-term benefits.”

Herbicide selection includes choosing those tolerated by the crop tree, timely application and minimum contact to the tree seedlings. “You have to know the tree species and read the label carefully,” he said

In addition to weed control, most hardwood species require phosphorus fertilizer early and nitrogen fertilizer after three to five years, he said.

Short-rotation crops and tree spacing are related, said AgCenter researcher Tom Dean.

Although spacing affects growth, “there’s no ‘correct’ spacing,” Dean said. Narrow rows create high density that encourages trees to grow higher and produce a full canopy sooner than wider spacing used with trees grown for saw timber.

“Growing 400 to 1,000 trees per acre provides flexibility in eight to 12 years,” Dean said. “We’re growing wood on a per-acre basis and not a per-tree basis.”

Trees should be planted close enough so the canopy closes more quickly to get early accumulations of biomass, he said. Earlier canopy closure promotes faster shading of the ground cover and smaller branches so total biomass production increases.

“Insects and diseases become problems when they start to affect the landowner’s objective,” said Lori Eckhardt, an entomologist with Auburn University. “It comes down to how much you’re willing to accept” regarding damage.

“You’re always going to have something that will kill trees,” Eckhardt said. “You have to decide what loss level is important for you.”

Dealing with pest and disease problems will continue to be problems, she said. “Our whole ecosystems are changing because of invasive species, especially from Asia.”

Rick Bogren
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