Forestry investing in drone technology & skills development

In ForestTECH, Issue09 by FIEA

At the just completed ForestTECH 2017 series, we heard from major forestry companies in both New Zealand and Australia that are investing heavily in drones, training in-company pilots and using the technology operationally across their estates.

Timberlands who manage >200,000ha plantation forests in the CNI of New Zealand including the Kaingaroa estate already have six qualified pilots (harvest manager, establishment manager, thinnings manager, fire and security manager, inventory manager and forest engineer) and are training more. Training was undertaken through Interpine and the Massey University School of Aviation.

Drones or UAV’s are now in hot demand across the company with the technology being used operationally for mapping, safe behavioural observations for tree fallers, breaker outs and machine operators, windthrow assessments, survival surveys, land preparation assessments, post thinning, regeneration and waste assessments and fire.

Forestry Corporation of NSW have followed a similar path. In May of this year 12 pilots along with three existing pilots were put through training so now they have 15 pilots based in 10 offices across NSW who are routinely using drones for much the same uses; plantation and native assessments, regeneration assessments and koala monitoring. Like New Zealand, the programme is being expanded and the systems for collecting and processing of the data outputs is being streamlined. Details on how ForestTECH 2017 delegates can download the presentations with details on steps taken to introduce drones into each company and lessons on rolling out the technology were sent out last week.

It appears that Swedish forestry companies are also heading down this same path as this region. Södra is Sweden’s largest forest-owner association, with more than 50,000 forest owners as its members. Södra is now investing in more forestry drones. “We have identified numerous applications where drones can enhance the efficiency of forestry work, not least when making inventories of storm-damaged forests. By purchasing equipment and investing in raising skills, we are taking another step towards the development of tomorrow’s digital forestry operations,” said Johan Malmqvist, Project Manager at Södra.

Since the end of 2015, Södra has trialed the use of drones for applications including inventories of forest damage. Test outcomes have been favourable and major potential has been identified for the digital technology moving forward. This summer, the Swedish Camera Monitoring Act was amended, which has simplified the use of drones in forestry. Södra is now taking further steps with digital development in the form of a considerable investment in drone technology and personnel skills development.

“We have purchased drone equipment for all our forestry operations areas and, in the autumn, we trained 51 of our forestry professionals as drone pilots. This means we are now well equipped to further develop use of the technology,” said Johan Malmqvist. Drones are digital aids that enhance the efficiency of manual tasks for Södra’s field staff.

“The technology is extremely cost-efficient. It is possible to obtain a good overview of the forest in very little time. The major advantage is from not having to waste unnecessary amounts of time on checks. Drones enable you to quickly see if and where a manual inspection or action is required. This enables more efficient work methods that, by extension, benefit our forest owner members. Moreover, drones make work safer for forest inspectors, not least when making inventories of windfalls following a storm,” said Johan Malmqvist.

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