Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) is leading a pan-European research project to develop more effective and sustainable methods for forest harvesting and management. For the companies participating in the project, it means tangible benefits.

Jori Uusitalo, Regional Director of Natural Resources Institute Finland, is not an easy man to reach by phone. This is understandable, given that the EFFORTE research project, worth some EUR 4.2 million, has just been launched.

The pan-European project coordinated by Luke has a total of 23 participants from five different countries. The overall budget of more than four million euro is divided into more or less equal shares between the EU and the participating companies. The person ultimately responsible for the management of the project is Uusitalo.

It must be possible to predict conditions

Mechanised uprooting combines early cleaning and PCT and results into cost savings. Image: Niina Pitkänen/Luke
Mechanised uprooting combines early cleaning and PCT and results into cost savings. Image: Niina Pitkänen/Luke

The purpose of the project is to develop innovative methods for forest harvesting and management. The aim is to improve the efficiency, profitability and environmental sustainability of forest work.

One of the priorities of the research project is the needs of forest harvesting. Due to strong seasonal fluctuations, forest work tends to halt particularly in the springtime, when the muddy season cuts all access to forests. Machine downtime is expensive in many ways.

Even if it is just about possible to reach the harvesting site during the muddy season, the wet weather makes the terrain prone to damage. From an environmental perspective, this is not sustainable.

“It is important for us and the sector as a whole to conduct some practical research on the operating conditions, terrains and circumstances of forest harvesting sites”, says Olli Laitinen, Research Director with the Metsä Group, one of the companies participating in the research project.

In the second part of the project, the focus is on improving forest growth by developing better forest management practices. The second objective is based on high technology and linked to the first theme of improving trafficability of forest soils and forest accessibility.

“We are now developing methods that help us understand and better predict the trafficability of forest soils. By using the Internet of Things and GIS, we are able to develop entirely new applications that improve the profitability and environmental sustainability of forest work”, Uusitalo explains.

In practice, this could mean up-to-date trafficability maps that would indicate where it is possible to go with the available equipment in the current conditions.

“Smart control solutions can also help to improve the productivity of forest management”, Uusitalo says.

In an optimal situation, new technology would help to always choose the most appropriate tree species or forest management chain options for all areas of a forest compartment. This would contribute to greater forest growth – in a sustainable manner.

Collaborative effort of companies and researchers

The practical work in EFFORTE takes place on several fronts in the form of four work packages that are further divided into 20 different tasks.

“We do not believe that just one single method would enable us reach our targets. For this reason, we are comparing different methods side-by-side in field studies and numerous tests”, Uusitalo explains.

In addition to Luke and the Metsä Group, the other Finnish participants in the project are Metsäteho, Stora Enso, UPM and Arbonaut. Other participants are from Sweden, France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

“We have had such positive experiences of earlier joint research projects that we are more than happy to participate in EFFORTE and other research projects focusing on the precompetitive phase”, says Olli Laitinen from the Metsä Group.

“We find this particular model very useful where businesses, who are familiar with practical needs, collaborate with academia in seeking relevant research topics. With joint research efforts, we are able to multiply the benefits”, says Laitinen.

Text: Kari Ahokas
Image: Niina Pitkänen/Luke

The article was published in Luke’s client magazine Leia.