A Message from Daniel Robison, Director
The NC State Hardwood Research Cooperative has had a banner year, producing promising research results from the last four years of work. As you will read in this years report, we have a number of studies which suggest very positive research and development opportunities for HRC members, staff and students. The first half of this report describes the many studies we have installed in natural stands within the context of early interventions to promote productivity. This was a focus area of our strategic planning over the past several years. The data indicate significant potential to influence the rate of stand development. We are learning about the effect of practical tools such as broadcast fertilization and herbicides, and increasing our understanding of the ecological mechanisms which underlay productivity in young natural mixed stands. Together these findings provide us with a strong basis for inference and much optimism for our future work. The second half of this report is about our many efforts in hardwood plantation research. Here too we have made much progress and are reporting on promising areas of work. Our strategic planning for plantations included activities related to genetic improvement and propagation, as well as field silviculture. We have advanced in both of these research areas. The research leads these findings provide for us are many, and some are compelling.
We are working at a time when hardwood forestry and silviculture (natural stands and plantations) in the U.S. south is a much battered activity. While the need for hardwood pulp and other low-value products remains high, in some areas prices have remained stable. This has apparently reduced the incentive to conduct research and development, given the large reserves of timber available, and, perhaps, due to the potential long-term supply from overseas. Similarly, although the value of hardwood sawtimber is high, and there is talk of reduced inventories of quality stems, few managers are willing to invest in research and development. Further, interest in hardwood plantations has peaked and declined, again, leaving only frustration for those who have invested heavily in this area. Against this backdrop, the HRC has lost a number of long-time members. I cannot help but believe that where the forestry-sector has a limited-vision of the need and promise of hardwood production R&D, it is unfortunate. The sustaining members of the Hardwood Research Cooperative recognize this.
Hardwood plantation work has faltered because a focused commitment to making it work was never carried through, leaving us with unimproved genetic material, inefficient propagation systems, and our plantations consumed by weeds and mired in low productivity. Each of these could be readily improved with effective research - - some of which is highlighted in this report. There is little reason why hardwoods, with the kind of focused research pines have received, cannot be grown in plantations more efficiently than in natural stands, at least for bulk production. Further, natural hardwood stands, despite decades of research, still grow mostly at the same rate as when unmanaged. This too can be changed, and this report highlights promising research. There is much reason for optimism, if we can stay the course. Optimism built not just on the promise of productivity, but on the promise of economic potential and ecological sustainability. In agriculture, a well-managed farm is the most productive, economical and sustainable. So too in forestry. Where natural hardwood inventories are large and accessible, research may seem unimportant. However, stands that grow at 1 to 2 cords per acre per year represent underperforming assets, even if they are currently profitable to own or manage. Enhancing growth rates will provide more timber for harvest, and/or require less land be owned or accessed. The economic implications are obvious. The capacity of managers to focus on issues of sustainability will be much facilitated when fewer acres are involved, or free them to expand their business within current acreage. Small landowners will benefit similarly, by making each acre more productive and profitable, thereby facilitating other uses.
Whatever the future brings for production forestry in the South, it will only thrive if timber can be grown in economically- and ecologically-viable ways, if it can compete with other land uses and social-political pressures, and if it can be done with less financial or social cost than overseas. The work of the HRC partnership is aimed at contributing to these ends.
Visit the NCSU Forestry Department
Visit HRC's Annual Report Archive