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Role to Play

The Bracke mechanical planter could have a role to play in Canadian forestry. 

By Jim Stirling 

The operator selects an optimal planting spot and a hydraulically operated tool scrapes and arranges mineral and humus soil to create a compacted mound. A seedling container plug is automatically inserted into the mound to a predetermined depth. Simultaneously, a shot of fertilizer can be delivered to help the seedling on its way and the soil is made snug around it. The Bracke planter can perform that task up to 300 times an hour, combining site preparation and planting in a single pass. Interested observers watched the mechanical planter at work for the first time in North America during a field demonstration recently near Prince George, BC. The tree seedling planting head that attaches to the boom of an hydraulic carrier was introduced earlier this year at Forest Expo 2000 in Prince George by Rocan Forestry BC Ltd. 

The Bracke mechanical planter had its North American debut during a recent field demonstration near Prince George, BC. The planter, capable of planting 300 seedlings an hour, can be fitted to any 12ton and up carrier.

Manufactured in Sweden by Robur Maskin AB, the Bracke planter is the latest in its line of site preparation and silvicultural equipment that includes mounders, disc trenchers and patch scarifiers. Rocan is best known as a cut to length specialist distributing the Rottne line of harvesters, processors and forwarders, but the company added Bracke Donaren scarification equipment a couple of years ago. Bracke planters have been operating successfully in countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Ireland since 1993, explains Sveneric Haglund, sales manager for Robur Maskin in Sater, Sweden. North America is viewed as a potential market for the planter partly because of the numbers of hydraulic excavator type machines working in the woods. The planter can be fitted to any carrier, from 12-ton size and up, possessing hydraulic pressure of 1630 psi and a flow of 100 l/min. It can be attached or removed in favour of a bucket for ditching in about 30 minutes, says Haglund. The carrier also needs to be fitted with an air compressor (114 psi and 200 l/min) to deliver the planting tube, water to keep the planting tube clean and fertilizer, if specified. Key to the Bracke planter is its computer control. 

Electronic valves move cylinders within the planter to control functions like the mounding blade and automatically sequence the square rubber planting tube to penetrate to the right depth for the size of seedling being planted. It also applies the appropriate compaction level. The operator has only to master a hand controlled forth and back toggle switch for the planter to perform. "It's very simple and low maintenance," says Haglund. A small computer screen in the carrier cab indicates the number of tree seedlings remaining in the rotating magazine and the levels of water/fertilizer in the reservoir. Haglund says in Sweden, loaded magazines and additional boxes of seedlings are stowed aboard the carrier. 

The planting tube and magazine varies with the size of seedling planted. Magazines can accommodate 50 mm, 60 mm and 70 mm seedlings. Haglund says it takes an experienced operator about 1.5 minutes to reload a 50 mm seedling magazine with its complement of 88 plants. The site made available by the BC Ministry of Forests for the Bracke planter demo prescribed the planting of 50 mm lodgepole pine seedlings at a density of 1,800 per hectare. The site was level and the Swedish operator had no problems emptying the 88 seedling magazine within 15 minutes. The ground was easy but Haglund notes the machine's mounding tool has a heavy-duty design to create planting spots in the rough and stony ground that typifies much of northern Scandinavia. The tool can be replaced in a couple of minutes if the ground damages its effectiveness, he adds. 

Dan O'Brien, owner of Bid Right Contracting Ltd of Prince George, liked what he saw with the Bracke planter. It was his Cat 315 carrier that was used in the field demo. "I'm quite impressed with it," he says. "Everything works in the right applications and I think we'll find a place for it." O'Brien sees opportunities for the mechanical planter with fill in duties where stock has regrown inconsistently. He figures the planting and ditching duality has promising implications in road deactivation and reactivation and right-of-way situations. And he says the attachment could prove handy creating planting spots amidst woody debris left by slash and burn site preparation techniques. He also reckons the approximately 30 cents per tree for a planting contractor and 300 trees per hour production potential computes into a realistic machine and planting head hourly rate. 

O'Brien is one of those enterprising young logging contractors who is confident in the future. He's not intimidated by new stuff. "We don't want to be second," he says. "We want to be first. And we're prepared to take the loss if it doesn't work out." It's clearly been working out much more than it hasn't for O'Brien and his company. This year, he'll have logging and site preparation crews working from Vancouver Island to Fort St. John. On the island, he has four processors and two feller bunchers working on a training program with Canfor to help operators get the most from that equipment type as they move more into harvesting second growth timber. And chances are good that somewhere in the Bid Right scheme of things, the Bracke planter will fit in the picture and be earning its keep. 

Seedling Science 

Tree seedlings have now become more of a science with the development of new types of seedlings. Nurturing tree seedlings, planting them and giving them a good healthy start in life is truly forestry's roots and the forest industry has implemented a number of improvements, such as customized seedlings, to make sure those roots take hold. Between 85 and 90 million tree seedlings are planted each year in the Prince George Forest Region, more than a third of the provincial total. The region is bounded roughly by Fort Nelson, Vanderhoof and the Alberta border. In the Prince George Forest District alone-one of eight within the region- around 25 million seedlings are planted annually by the forest industry and the BC Ministry of Forests. Spruce and pine are the main species planted, along with Douglas fir and balsam in the higher elevations. 

The industry and the ministry are planting more species mixtures on the same blocks to mimic what was on the site before, says Anna Monetta, reforestation and site preparation forester with the Ministry of Forests' Prince George Region. In the Peace region, for example, forestlands are managed for hardwood species like larch, aspen and birch. And in the Robson Valley east of Prince George, cedar and hemlock are planted, she adds. The seedlings themselves have changed and for the better. Bare root seedlings are being replaced by seedlings grown in plugs which are bigger, have larger diameters, a better developed root mass and are more snow resistant. "Seedlings have to be a certain size for certain sites, ground conditions and elevations, and match the type of species that was harvested on the site," Monetta says. Shorter, fatter seedling plugs will be planted on wet sites to keep the roots out of the water, for example. Most seedlings in the region are planted in the soil, taking advantage of natural nutrients. 

Some need a little help. Mechanical mounding is a planting site preparation method used in wet areas to raise the planting site above the water level. Some pine sites require disc trenching while in other instances logging debris is piled and burned to create planting sites, Monetta says. Prince George is a magnet each May for a national and international contingent of travelers. All those millions of trees need to be planted and obliging them are frequently highly experienced tree planters. A second planting season occurs in July and August, says Monetta. It takes place in the region's northern areas and high elevation sites which are snow-covered in spring. Monetta says these seedlings are typically nursery grown starting in January, lifted in July and planted immediately. Seedling survival rates are high compared to past decades thanks to good nursery culture, notes Monetta, averaging 85 to 90 per cent. 

But brush can take a toll on young trees, competing for light, space and nutrients. "Our forest lands are classified ecologically so we know if there's likely to be a brush problem." Manual brushing - using sheep to munch unwanted vegetation - and some chemicals are used at varying times through the region. Seedlings have to be cared for until they're free growing or well established enough to successfully compete with brush species. The time it takes to reach that point depends on the site, but it is usually about 10 to 12 years after planting, says Monetta. Newly reforested areas are checked after planting and a formal survey takes place two years later to see how the trees are doing. Another survey confirms the free growing stage is reached. As it matures, the young stand may need more treatments such as thinning or pruning. But in the meantime another new forest is on its way. 


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