Twice a year, NordGen Forest arranges thematic days concerning different issues of relevance for the forestry. The days are circulating the Nordic countries and are held in the language of the arranging country. This time, Sweden was hosting the day. NordGen Forest arranged it in collaboration with Skogforsk, The Swedish Forest Agency and Holmen Skog. The theme was: “Future Trees: what can breeding offer and what will be demanded?”
It turned out that this is a rather difficult question to answer. As one of the lecturers, professor Sten B. Nilsson said, the future is complex. There are so many factors in the surrounding world that will affect how the forestry in the Nordic countries will develop.
“One of the trends you can see, however, is that sustainability will be crucial for the development of the society in the future, both nationally and internationally. To base their work on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is a matter of survival for the larger forest industries”, Nilsson said during his lecture at the thematic day.
Nilsson also said that corrugated cardboard is the product which is the largest product in the world market right now and that both demand and production of cardboard is increasing quickly. But he also warned about the risks with assuming that all plastic can be replaced with cellulose products.
“In some areas you can see what we call a “cruel optimism” when it comes to what the forest can deliver, an over-reliance on what kind of new products we can expect. The forest industry can’t shift focus in just one or two years. We need a perspective where forest products are not only green but also economical, well-designed and attractive for the consumers. To handle such a shift, an extraordinary leadership within the forest sector is needed”, Sten B. Nilsson said.
In Sweden, Skogforsk is responsible for the breeding while companies and forest owner organizations produce seeds and seedlings and make sure that the are delivered to the foresters. Mats Berlin, Researcher at Skogforsk, presented some of their work and said that in their breeding work, they have three equal objectives.
”When we breed trees in Sweden we do it to adapt our forests to climate change, to conserve the genetic diversity and to increase the value of forest production. We want to have robust trees, but we also consider new angles as disease resistance, density and fiber properties in the trees” he said.
Each breeding cycle takes about 20 years. But this doesn’t have to mean that foresters need to wait 20 years with taking actions for climate change adaptation.
“There are ways to handle climate change already today by importing this aspect to the user recommendations for the present seed sources”, Mats Berlin said and refers to this presentation where this is explained further.
Other examples of what is demanded of tree breeding for the future came from Magnus Herzberg, Business Area Manager at SweTree Technology.
“We want to increase the production, but also secure the production. We need larger volumes, but we also want our forests to resist climate change, drought, cold temperatures or insect attacks. The quality of the trees is also important if we are to succeed in creating liquid aviation fuel or perhaps raw material that can be used for producing textiles. But if we look at those products, we need to consider trees with short reproduction cycles. We can’t foresee what we will need in 50 years, but perhaps we can predict what’s needed in ten years”, Hertzberg said.
SweTree Technology is focusing on somatic embryogenesis, which is a way to multiply seeds on a larger scale by cloning embryos. They’re aiming at building a large-scale factory for somatic embryogenesis which would be able to produce one tenth of the 200 million plants that are planted in the Swedish forests each year.
To conclude, the forestry stands before many challenges but also many possibilities. But the largest obstacle is the uncertainty. It is difficult to plan which tree to plant today when it won’t be used for several decades.
“There are many problems and many possibilities ahead and I guess it’s time to make up your mind Not only for one way to go, but to have a readiness for several different possible future scenarios”, Claes Uggla from The Swedish Forest Agency and one of the organizers to the event concluded.
As the thematic day was arranged as an online meeting, all the presentations are recorded. They can be found on the Swedish version of this news article.