Central areas of research

Photo: Amanda Berglund

Since Sweden is located within what is termed the boreal coniferous forest region, or taiga, coniferous trees such as spruce and Scots pine are the primary tree species in the country as a whole. The farther south you travel, the more deciduous trees you see. Deciduous trees are also generally better at self-sowing, which is an important reason why forestry has long focused on coniferous trees.

Adapting the forest to where it grows is important, and an area under constant development. It is also one of the keys to how we can increase the volume of raw material on the available cultivation area in the long term.

Sweden is conducting world-leading research into tree genetics, in order to produce seedlings that are best equipped to get growing into large trees.

Another major research area is how automation and digitalisation can contribute to the forestry’s development. It is as much about increasing efficiency and refinement value as it is about finding paths to more gentle forest management. Olle Gelin is Project Leader for Forest Operations at Skogforsk:

“This is a highly advanced area. A lot of people practically equate automation in the forest with space and space research. We face major challenges with the hilly and hugely varied terrain. One small section of the forest could include soft and hard ground or even wetlands that have no bearing capacity at all, and we have to consider all of this. Then there’s the weather conditions with snow, rain and wind. It’s incredibly hard to automate certain parts and create the data we require, since the woodland varies so much, but nothing is impossible, and the sensors and computer power do exist.”

There are great gains to be had in optimising and connecting the different stages of forest management, i.e. planting, clearing, thinning and felling. A forest that’s been better cleared gives a better yield when thinning. Using automation and digital development, it is possible to produce ‘clearing robots’ and lighter forest machines that are cheaper to move. This enables more frequent thinning, with less outtake each time.

“Even though there are very likely to be driverless vehicles in the forest in twenty years’ time, there will also be machine operators to help them on the way. Having said that, the operator may handle two machines rather than one, one of which can deal with the easier jobs and routes autonomously,” says Gelin.

Making improvements to different aspects establishes a better value chain, and with digitalisation it is hoped that this chain can then be connected to different databases. On harvesting, the land owner knows which trees have grown best in which place. which is useful to know when planting new trees.