Growing confidence in forestry's future

The big news for Scion this quarter was the Government’s announcement of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) funding to support forest industry research. This is significant because current MBIE funding of Scion’s forest growing research, managed through Future Forests Research, ends on 30 September. We are therefore very pleased to have been awarded $20.25 million over six years to develop with industry a precision forestry approach to radiata pine and $10.05 million to accelerate research into plant diseases that can seriously harm radiata pine, kauri and horticultural tree species.

The larger project, involving some $4.9 million per year with industry co-funding, is named “Growing confidence in forestry’s future”. Here the goal is to make Pinus radiata forests more productive, sustainable and profitable through precision technology, improved environmental practices and management, and better use of genetic resources. The research programme, developed with forest growers, will integrate the latest advances in remote sensor technology, tree physiology, genetics, forest ecology and complex problem-solving. Targets include doubling tree growth while improving wood quality and consistency; and assuring international markets that New Zealand’s intensified forest management practices are environmentally and socially sustainable.

Importantly, these outcomes are consistent with the aspirations of Māori who wish to use their forest assets to build greater economic wealth and more employment for their people and strengthen Mātauranga Māori.

Scion Science Leaders Drs Peter Clinton and John Moore will lead the project with input from other New Zealand and international research and industry experts. An important feature of the work will be a close working relationship with forest growers to ensure the research outputs remain well-targeted to user needs and are readily and quickly adopted.

Scion will also lead the second large new research programme to protect New Zealand’s primary industries and conservation estates from current and future diseases. The focus will be on Phytophthora diseases, which are a huge biosecurity challenge worldwide owing to the range of plants they affect, rapid global spread, sweeping impacts and high costs to manage.

New Zealand currently confronts challenges with three major Phytophthora diseases of trees: kauri dieback, red needle cast of radiata pine, and crown and collar rots of apples. The project will help mitigate this disease risk through plant breeding to improve disease resistance, disease management and fundamental knowledge of tree defence mechanisms to Phytophthora species.

Led by Dr Nari Williams, the project will bring together key New Zealand researchers and international specialists working in the management of Phytophthora pathogens, and will involve conservation managers, forestry and horticultural industries. This project will build New Zealand’s capacity to respond to current and emerging Phytophthora threats, and will see New Zealand become a world leader in addressing the complex issues of Phytophthora management in trees.

We are delighted too that the Government will invest $2.5 million over five years to the Radiata Pine Breeding Company (RPBC) to produce new technologies that will reduce the time it takes to breed and commercially plant improved pine trees. RPBC has formed a partnership between forestry organisations, Scion and the University of Canterbury to research and develop the new technologies. This programme will draw on pioneering work to sequence the radiata pine genome, the latest knowledge (and techniques) about genomic selection and findings from the “Growing confidence in forestry’s future” programme.

In the high value manufacturing portfolio we are pleased that the Biopolymer Network Ltd (BPN) was awarded $17 million by MBIE. A joint venture between Scion, AgResearch and Plant and Food Research, BPN will use this funding to continue its ground-breaking work in developing resins and foams from biological materials and a green processing approach that enhances the performance of fibres and polymers.

Working with our research collaborators and industry on the new programmes commences on 1 October. We are also exploring alternative funding to sustain our important research into alternative species such as Douglas-fir, cypresses, eucalypts and indigenous species such as kauri, totara and red beech.

We look forward to seeing the positive impact of the new research programmes on the profitability and health of New Zealand planted forests and in encouraging the establishment of larger planted forest estates to meet growing global demand for sustainably produced softwoods.

If you have any queries about the new MBIE programmes or other articles in this edition of Scion Connections please contact me or one of the identified staff directly.

Warren ParkerWarren Parker

Dr Warren Parker
Chief Executive

In the previous issue of Connections (issue 8), it incorrectly stated that approximately 40 per cent of New Zealand’s planted forests would be owned by Maori at the conclusion of the Waitangi Treaty settlements. This should have read “approximately 40 per cent of forested land including some planted forests.” We apologise for any misunderstanding this may have caused.