Canterbury University team is looking for sustainable solutions for NZ forestry

An innovative team at the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry is working on a breeding programme that could determine which durable sustainable eucalyptus varieties are best for producing high quality wood.

Dr Clemens Altaner, who heads the team, says wood is a biodegradable material and therefore central to a sustainable and environmentally friendly economy, but it can decay or rot prematurely.

Wood can be impregnated with chemicals to make it longer lasting, but these are toxic and some still used in New Zealand are restricted in other countries.

Importing naturally durable wood from tropical countries is problematic because these forests are often not harvested sustainably.

Dr Altaner says some eucalyptus trees provide another option because they are highly durable.  Crucially for foresters they grow fast and straight, which makes them easier to process.

Dr Altaner and his colleagues are now aiming to find which variety is the best option for New Zealand’s climate.

He says:

“We want to identify not only the trees which are the fastest growing, most frost-resistant and most insect-resistant but also those which produce the best quality timber.”

“Selecting trees for wood quality is rarely done due to the amount of time it takes to make difficult measurements, however we have developed new, quick wood-quality assessments.

“Another unique feature of the programme is the assessment of the trees at a young age, drastically reducing the time to deploy improved trees from decades to years.”

Hopefully within five years superior trees identified from the breeding programme will be mass propagated and planted.

All this is done with the goal of creating high quality wood which can also be used to produce engineered wood products such as laminated veneer lumber, both here in New Zealand and to open up additional export opportunities for the forestry industry.

Dr Altaner’s research was awarded a $500,000 grant last year from the Government’s Sustainable Farming Fund, and other funding sources have come from the forestry industry, from seed producers to tree nurseries to forest growers and wood processors.