State Forests Looks To 'Superseed' Nature

July 30, 1996 Tumut and Adelong Times

State Forests is paying more than the price or gold for genetically improved pine seeds from New Zealand for its rarest plantation expansion program.

The ''super seeds", rated the best in the world, cost $10,000 a kilo, but can increase timber productivity 40 per cent.

Trees from the new stock also grow to maturity seven years faster, are straighter and are disease resistant.

Logging has been a major industry in NSW since settlement, but in recent years has come under fire from the green movement, which has fought to have timber cutters banned from old-growth forests.

The Government now backs their stand and State Forests Softwoods Region is accelerating the policy change to plantations by putting in huge areas of the new pines in the Tumut, Tumbarumba, Orange, Oberon and Bathurst forestry districts.

To get maximum returns for its investment, State Forests looked at various genetic programs but made the commercial decision to join the New Zealand Radiata Pine Breeding Cooperative, whose membership includes the biggest forestry companies in the country.

"We knew they had 50 years' genetic work behind them and we saw a lot of value in a collaborative program." Soft woods Region general manager Peter Crowe said.

We've set up a control pollinated seed orchard just south of Eden and that will be our source for the future."

Genetic development manager Hans Porada, of Tumut, said State Forests now had the Phar Lap of radiata pine seedlings.

"The initial price of the seed is around $10,000 kg, which is more than the price of gold at around $9,500/kg, but it is so genetically improved it can increase our productivity by up to 40 per cent," he said.

"As well as that, we use it to grow radiata pine hedges and the branch tips cut from those can be planted in the normal way. "We get between 50 and 100 seedlings from one seed so the initial high cost is more than justified."

Dr Porada said that non-conventional techniques such as genetic engineering and molecular biology was also being used to improve trees.

He could identify the male or female involved in a particular offspring and whether it actually had the characteristics he was looking for.

"1f we were to apply that to, say, a horse breeding situation, we would look for the character which gives us speed, endurance or strength," he said.

"In pines we look for the characters that give us high productivity, straight stems, fine branching and disease resistance.

"And this is where the real value lies in forestry. The chance of a progeny being good or bad is removed and we know exactly how the tree is going to perform."

Dr Porada said rather than wait 35 years for a pine to mature, State Forests would now get the same volume of timber in 27 years.

Another spin-off is that you don't need as many trees per hectare to get the same return so money can be saved by planting fewer trees even though they cost a little more.

We're also working towards increasing the weight of the wood and if we can do that by 5 per cent we can recover almost $4 a cubic metre more in royalties, or $2 million more in revenue a year.

State Forests Softwoods Region wants to become involved with local farmers in joint plantation schemes and will make the improved seedlings available to them. 'We want the benefits to flow statewide," Dr Porada said.