‘Virtual logs’ improve returns from Southern pine plantations

This research shows how innovative technologies and computer-generated ‘virtual logs’ can ‘predict’ wood quality in standing trees, increasing efficiency in harvest strategy and down-stream processing.

Most structural timber framing used in Queensland’s construction industry comes from the State’s 150,000 hectares of subtropical Southern pine plantations.

Southern pine species and wood properties vary between plantation sites, which affects the suitability of specific, harvested logs for different types of products. Plantation trials show large variation in grade recovery, potentially influencing the value of sawn pine products.

Until now, plantation growers were not able to match the quality of individual harvest stands with specific products required by the processing sector.

This research developed a benchmark for understanding how wood properties vary between the Southern pine species and plantation sites. This will enable processors to plan more confidently for specific products from a harvest.

The extensive research effort collected wood properties and environmental data for rotation-age stands (e.g. 28 years old) and younger stands (14 to 24 years old) in 100 plantations between Bundaberg in Queensland to Casino, NSW. The data were used to characterise the Southern pine resource and determine the impacts of site, species group and clearfall age on yield, quality and product performance.

Wood properties like wood density, stability and stiffness were measured in standing trees using non-destructive, acoustic resonance technology and tree core analyses, and then validated with data from peeled billets and sawlogs. These data formed the foundation for a customised, wood value technology platform for Southern pine that can predict the value of current harvest stands and future, post-thinning-age stands.

High-resolution imagery was used to ‘reconstruct’ veneers peeled from the sampled sawlogs creating a ‘virtual log’.  This is a convenient visualisation tool for examining the physical properties of real logs. The models also predict whole-log wood properties in standing trees as well as the value of virtual boards ‘sawn’ from the virtual logs.

The research helps forest growers to evaluate wood property variation across their plantation estates, improving returns throughout the supply chain from plantation to wood product.

This was a large scale, collaborative research project between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland University of Technology, HQPlantations Pty Ltd, HVP Plantations, Forestry Corporation NSW and Hyne Timber. It was funded through the Queensland Government and Forest & Wood Products Australia, with support from forest industry contributors.