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Forestry engineering

Valuable wood

The planting and exploration of pinewoods opens up new markets and reduces the extraction of native species

During 1990, the furniture produced with the wood extracted from the species of pines known as Pinus have rendered to the country US$ 40 million in exports. Last year these same products reached the mark of US$ 1 billion in sales to markets abroad. Forestry cultivation with species of the botanical genre Pinus are also responsible for placing Brazil into second place, behind China, in the production of the resin extracted from the trunk of these trees. This gum on being industrially processed results in a solid resin, called pitch, and a liquid, named turpentine, the raw materials used in the manufacture of solvents, paints, glues, adhesives, cosmetics and perfumes. Up until 1989 Brazil had been an importer of Pinus resin, but today the situation is different. Now, being produced for the internal market and for export, this sector has an annual income of US$ 30 millions. These are conquests to a large extent obtained through research into planting techniques and adaptation to the Brazilian climate and soil, in the selecting of seeds and in obtaining off-shoots. Many of these advances came about at the Forestry Institute (IF) of Sao Paulo, which is linked to the State Secretariat of the Environment. Since 1936, the institute has been carrying out studies on the adaptation and forms of commercial growing of pine species that originated in the United States and Central America. One of the primordial registrations of this type of tree in Brazil was carried out in 1906 when the first director of the IF, the Swede Albert Löfgren, published a study in which he had related the introduction of some species of pine trees into the Forest Gardens of Sao Paulo.

“In the beginning, the introduction of exotic species with commercial ends”, stated the agronomy engineer Francisco José do Nascimento Kronka, a researcher at the IF, “happened because of the increase in demand for cellulose in paper manufacture and for sawmill wood, as a consequence of the decrease of the native species in the State of Sao Paulo and in the south of the country”. Agronomist Kronka and the forestry engineers Francisco Bertolani, a consultant and forestry entrepreneur, and Reinaldo Herrero Ponce, the director of the Foundation for Conservation and Forestry Production in the State of Sao Paulo, are the authors of the book entitled, A cultura do pínus no Brasil [The growing of pines in Brazil], published by the Brazilian Society for Sylviculture (SBS) and launched in March of this year. Within this work, in a didactic manner, the species characteristics and the current systems of agricultural and industrial production adopted in Brazil are laid out.

Devastation of the araucaria
The increase in industrialization at the beginning of the 20th century demanded lots of wood. The preference at that time fell upon a tree native to the Atlantic Rainforest, the araucaria (Araucaria angustifolia). Present from the States of Parana until Rio Grande do Sul and in the higher and colder areas of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, the araucarias were almost eradicated, there surviving today around 2% of the original population. Of the same botanic order as the conifers, this pine tree has substituted with advantages the so called Brazilian Pine or Pinheiro-do-paraná. “To grow the araucaria is extremely difficult because it demands soil rich in nutrients, needs a lot of rain and humidity, as well as growing very slowly”, advised agronomist Kronka. “The Brazilian pine, on the other hand, grows rapidly in poor soils and with little rainfall, although the major part of the species demand well defined cold seasons.” These are trees that reach their cutting size after growing for 25 years, and it is possible to use them for the production of wood and cellulose after 12 or 15 years, in their thinner form, with the removal of smaller trees.

Up until the end of the decade of the 1950s, 55 species of pine, from the 111 catalogued throughout the world, were planted in extensive areas administered by the IF. Various other entrepreneurial plantations, though small, and from State research organs, were carried out in the States of Sao Paulo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul. Only nine adapted well to the climate and the Brazilian soil. Two of these species are North American, the Pinus elliottii and the Pinus taeda, that today are the main representatives of this genre grown commercially in the south and in part of the southeast of the country. The others are: the pinheiros P. caribaea, P. oocarpa, P. kesiya, P. pseudostrobus, P. strobus and P. tecunumanii, originating from countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras, Bahamas, Cuba, Guatemala and El Salvador, in Central America. Known as tropical pines, some of them can be planted in Brazil from the north of the State of Parana up until Amazonia.

But the commercial plantations only flourished as a business starting from 1966, when the federal government instituted fiscal incentives for reforestation with good discounts on income tax payment. At that time, as well as the Pinus, Brazil also commercialized the massive planting of the eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.). Thus, the pinus and eucalyptus transformed themselves into the main reforestation wood in the country, covering 99% of the planted areas. These are two rapid growth species that provide wood and cellulose. “They’ve had two major functions for the country. The first was to avoid the cutting of more native trees and the second was the creation of a forestry base that would permit the exportation of planks, agglomerates, plywood and furniture”, stated agronomist Francisco Bertolani. According to data from the SBS, of the US$ 21 billion referring to the production of wood, cellulose and charcoal in Brazil during 2004, US$ 17.5 billion came from planted forests – 61% eucalyptus and 39% pine -, the remaining US$ 3.5 billion came from legal extraction. In these numbers clearly there is no inclusion of the trees irregularly removed from Amazonia, for example. In 2004, exports in the forestry sector totaled US$ 5.8 billion, the second highest agricultural income only behind that of the Soya bean with US$ 10 billion. Of the total produced in the country in the reforestation sector, 45% (US$ 9.4 billion) are related to wood and furniture, 35% (US$ 7.3 billion) to paper and cellulose and 20% (US$ 4.2 billion) to wood that is transformed into charcoal for use in steel mill furnaces.

In the area of paper and cellulose, which only works with reforested trees, the pinus represents 30% of these plantations. It is important because it contributes with long fibers, essential in the manufacture of paper, which demands more resistance and better absorption of ink. In relation to furniture, pinewood dominates the preference within this industry.

Planted forests
Large scale plantations began between 1970 and 1980.  In this decade that characterized itself by the formation of a forestry base, partnerships between companies, universities and research institutes also intensified with the goal of improving the adaptation of the reforestation species. “The fiscal incentives distorted a little the growing of the pine tree because it started an entrepreneurial  race to start up plantations and to import seeds from various parts of the world. For example, the planting of subtropical pines in warm regions and tropical pines in cold regions began. Hence the researchers ran up against many problems”, advised agronomist Bertolani, who in 1967 was contracted as a forestry engineer by the Freudenberg Group, to carry out studies on the management and improvement of pine trees on the plantations that the company had started near the town of Agudos (SP), one of the first pine plantations in the country.

Under the coordination of the forestry engineer Horst Schuckar, who had worked at the IF, agronomist Bertolani began to carry out experiments in management, mainly with tropical pines, including those grown for the production of selected seeds. By the middle of the 1970’s the IF started pioneering work on improvements. “There was a group that brought together agronomists, forestry engineers and biologists to develop techniques for quality improvements of the productive species directed towards the use of wood for sawmills and for resin production”, remembered Araci Aparecida da Silva, who has been a researcher at the IF since 1977, and is currently at the Experimental Station of Tupi, in the municipality of Piracicaba. “We began with the selection of individual improvements in volume, form, resistance to pests and diseases, within the classical techniques of selection.”

The selection of the best specimens arrived at the choice of one in every 10,000 trees. “Even straight trees, without any forking, but which showed slow growth, were eliminated”, related Alexandre Magno Sebbenn, a researcher and the coordinator of the forestry improvement program at the IF. “We made a climate survey and implanted  progeny testing and cloning orchards”, advised researcher Araci. Progeny testing is that which evaluates if the genetic constitution of the parents is good or bad, starting from the characteristics of the offspring. In the pine trees these characteristics are known when they reach ten year of age. However, cloning orchards are used to produce improved seeds of the selected trees approved during the progeny tests.

Since the decade of the 1980’s, the researchers have been making use of cloning in the laboratory for the implanting of orchards. “We have orchards with 3,590 clones for the production of seeds”, related researcher Araci. “They’re now in their second generation, plant collections that have already come from selected orchard seeds”, advised coordinator Sebbenn. In the cloning orchards the planting of identical clones near to each other is avoided so that pollination among identical individuals will not take place, which would cause a degeneration within their descendants.

The consequences of the commercial evolution of pine cultivation began to appear at the end of the 1970’s, when the first felling was made. Although the plantations were still being improved, there existed the concern for improving the products resulting from the exotic pine tree. The major problem was with the still juvenile wood. The furniture made from these pine trees was considered to be of poor quality. A program carried out at that time by the IF and the Technology Research Institute (IPT) developed various studies for the improvement of the wood processing with technology for the manufacture of panels covered with resins used in furniture and also for the construction of housing. In the decade of the 1980’s various companies, both re-forestry and furniture, established themselves in various points of the southern region, forming important industrial centers in Sao Bento do Sul (SC) and Bento Gonçalves (RS). The domination of the technology in the production of agglomerates, planks and panels of pine wood led Brazil to initiate the exporting of furniture during the decades of the 1990’s and 2000’s. This was the era in which the companies went on to make use of a better quality of wood coming from the trees that were then completing twenty years of growth.

Resin pitch
Another economic benefit that occurred at the end of the decade of the 1980’s was the increase in the production and exporting of resin. Currently the country produces 95,000 tons of resin per year, according to the Association of Resin Manufacturers of Brazil (Aresb), which groups together 60 producers. Of the income of US$ 30 million forecast for this year, both the product on its own and derivatives coming from the distillation of the resin, pitch and turpentine are included.

The major Brazilian producer of resin is the Forestry Institute, which owns a total area of 25,000 hectares (ha) of pines, spread throughout various units in the State. Every year the institute sets up an auction by way of an edictal and sells the resin. The production for the year 2004-2005 was some 18,000 tons. “Each tree gives around 3 kilograms of resin per year”, advised agronomist Kronka. “But we have some trees that produce up to 12 kilograms.” These examples are clones, but not always can they guarantee the continuation of the same quality. “There always appear large variations in their descendants because the genetic constitution is responsible for only a part of resin production, and another part is the result of environmental aspects such as temperature, soil, humidity and altitude”, advised researcher Sebbenn. “In this second generation we’ve already managed gains of up to 40% in relation to the original resin production.” The results have led to a partnership between the IF, Aresb and the Luiz de Queiroz Upper School of Agriculture (Esalq) of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in a project for the systematization of the cloning of the pine tree for resin production. “The objective is the formulation of a protocol that could be used by the producers for the production and use of the cloned material”, related Eduardo Monteiro Fagundes, Aresb’s executive director.

The production of resin begins when the trees reach the age of 10 years, and continues on until they are 30 years. A type of scraping is done, called facing, which removes a part of the tree’s bark. Into the location an acidic substance is applied that sets off a series of stimulations in the walls of the tree facilitating the running off of the resin.

Resin, wood and cellulose have made the demand for the pine tree grow 10% each year. There are 1.8 million hectares in the plantations, the State of Parana being the largest producer with a third of the total. But as yet it is still not enough. At the start of the 2000s there were the first signs of shortage of pinewood. “This is the start of a possible forestry blackout”, suggested agronomist Kronka. As it is an agricultural product that needs many years before being explored, specialists have already projected future scenarios for the country. They indicate that by 2020 a further 1.9 million hectares need to be planted so that the pinewood will not be lacking in the country. In Brazil only 0.6% of the territory is today used for commercial reforestation, totaling 5 million hectares. Chile has 2.6% and China, 4.7% of planted forest. Data from the Agriculture and Provisions Secretariat of the State of Sao Paulo indicates that around 10 million hectares are available from pasturelands and could be used for reforestation. This is a form of making use of that which will cause  the least impact on the native forests and other agricultural crops, which, in contrast to the pinewood, demand very fertile soils.