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Poplar: Sustainable plantation timber for ply
Poplar: Sustainable plantation timber for plywood production
Poplars are amongst the fastest growing tree species under appropriate agro climatic conditions. Poplars can be harvested at short rotations of 8 to 10 years. Wood obtained from poplars is eminently suitable for manufacture of match splints, veneering products, artificial limbs, interior paneling, cheap furniture and packing cases etc. As the availability of farm grown poplar logs improved steadily, plywood industry saw an opportunity to set up poplar based veneer and plywood units. That further spurred demand for poplar logs and in turn more and more farmers adopted poplar planting because of high productivity and attractive economic returns. There are now over 1000 veneer and plywood units have been operational in Northern India in Haryana, Punjab, Utterpradesh and Utterakhand.
Success story of Poplar Plantation
Some species of poplars like Populus ciliate, P.gamblei, P.alba, etc, are indigenous to the Himalayan region of India. However, success story of poplar plantations in the north-western plains of Uttar-Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab is based on exotic P. deltoids indigenous to United States of America. Certain clones of P. deltoids have been found to be eminently suitable for a forestation as well as agro forestry plantation.
When Wimco Limited started facing growing shortage of logs of suitable species for manufacture of safety matches during 1970s, the company management started intensive search for testing and developing new species for manufacture of safety matches including poplars as aspen (Populus tremuloides) is one of the most important species for making safety matches in Europe.
Meanwhile, Forest Research Institute Dehradun (FRI) and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department had started introduction trials of various species and clones of poplars in Terai and Bhabar Forest Division along with many other fast growing exotics including eucalypts. Credit goes to FRI and UP Forest Department for successful introduction trials and confirming commercial potential of poplars under irrigated conditions based on good performance of Populus deltoides clone
Three bold initiatives taken by Wimco Limited in 1984 were instrumental in shaping the now well known success story of poplar plantations under agroforestry system in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand in India.
1. Establishment of Wimco Seedlings Limited for production of high quality clonal planting stock of poplars and providing strong long term R & D support for developing, testing and deployment of new clones and scientific silvicultural management of poplar plantations.
2. Launching of major poplar plantations project that ensured delivery of everything required for growing poplars successfully with high returns at the doorsteps of participating farmers e.g.
• High quality planting stock
• Competent technical extension services for guidance of farmers.
• Long term bank finance with refinance assistance of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development
• Buy back guarantees at remunerative price on harvest of poplars.
3. Creation of a separate Agroforestry Division of Wimco Limited for implementation of the aforesaid project in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
During the year 1989-90, the planting of poplars on private farmlands covered 4,000 ha. with 2 million poplar plants per annum. By the year 1999- 2000 planting of poplars under agro-forestry system on private farm lands increased to 15 million plants covering nearly 30000 ha. annually.
Poplar: The scenario in Punjab
North India plywood industry supplies over 50% India’s market demand of plywood, which is based on poplar timber for manufacturing of Block Boards, Alternate Plywood and Flush Doors. The evolution and growth of poplar clone plantation timber has changed in economy of Indian Plywood industry after closure of North East plywood units. In this issue we have studied the avaibility and future prospect of Punjab state plywood industry scenario and have thrown lights backed with the comments of planters, scientists and industry people.
It is noted that Punjab has approximately 80 operational plywood units, which is mostly depend upon the poplar timber for its production. Hoshiarpur area is known for poplar plantation hub in Punjab. Presently in others area’s farmers, such as Ropar, Jallandhar, Ludhiana, Ambala are planting poplar seeing the high yield of its cultivation. The Ply Reporter did extensive survey in Punjab and found that since last three years Punjab plywood industry had been suffering from less supply of poplar resulting 25% price hike then. Year 2011 registers stable poplar prices due to good availability. The industry leaders and experts felt that the supply will be normal in coming years because of huge area of clone poplar plantation is being ready for harvesting.
Poplar: Challenges for Punjab
The survey indicated that the practice of cutting immature timber led bad quality of end products. Although, the new peeling machines can peel the small girth poplar for plywood core veneer but it resulted thickness variation in plywood. Punjab plywood manufacturers association and Government of Punjab have been driving campaign to stop this practice to educate the planters. The coin has other side also as Block Board manufacturing units are happy with the increased supply of small girth poplar.
Poplar: Opportunity in Punjab
It has been observed the rosy situation of availability of Poplar timber in Punjab in coming years. Industry players confident the supply of poplar would be normal and prices would be controlled. Industry should avail this opportunity by bringing in high yield peeling machines to optimum utilization of timber.
Over 80 operational plywood mill owners smiled to see the availability of poplar in the state and they are waiting for price reduction since last three years. It is fact that imported plywood from China has put pressure of domestic producers because of cheap pricing. The better supply led to price correction, and domestic producers might stand in market with better pricing with local flavor and climatic conditions.
The efforts should also drive to increase the productivity and plantation of clone eucalyptus because the plywood industry is not being completed without eucalyptus. Planters of Punjab has set an example by increasing poplar plantation so the industry should made collective efforts for Eucalyptus plantation too.
Forest cover in Punjab
The forest cover of the state, based on satellite data of October-November, 2004 is 1,558 sq km, which constitutes 3.09% of geographical area. Moderately dense forest is 723 sq km, and open forest, 835 sq km. There has been improvement in forest cover mainly due to poplar plantations in private lands in the districts of Bhatinda, Patiala, and Ludhiana as observed by Forest Survey of India officials during field verification and corroborated by the State Forest Department.
Piare Lal, Technical Advisor, Pragati Biotechnologies, Hoshiarpur, Punjab
The Ply Reporter spoke to Mr. Piare Lal, who founded Pragati Biotechnologies after retirement from ITC. He had also worked with Wimco Limited and promoted clonal Eucalyptus and poplar plantations on large scale in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. State of the art modern clonal nurseries of Pragati Biotechnologies located at Dholbaha in Hoshiarpur District produce about 7.5 million clonal plants of high yielding and fast growing clones of eucalypts annually for supplies to the farmers.
The words of Mr. Piare Lal
1. Harvest of poplars and eucalyptus prematurely means sacrificing best growth period when trees will put up highest current annual increment. Total harvest per ha will be low as peak productivity or mean annual increment would not have been reached. This practice will have serious negative impact on overall wood supplies from same acreage of plantations.
2. It is extremely sad that plywood industry in north India has hardly ever taken any initiative to promote plantations. Major credit goes to enterprising farmers of Punjab and adjoining states who have diversified agriculture and met growing demand of wood. Plywood industry virtually throttled growth of agro forestry including poplar plantations when they joined hands to engineer a price crash for poplar logs from 2001- 2005.
3. Government has helped greatly by exempting poplars and eucalyptus from regulatory felling permits and transit passes for felling and transport of timber.
4. It is difficult to predict future. However if industry behaves in a responsible manner in their own long term interest and farmers continue to get remunerative price for farm grown timbers, farmers will continue to grow poplars and clonal eucalyptus plantations.
Pioneering efforts by some of the wood based industries for promotion of technology based fast growing and high yielding clonal plantations under agroforestry have saved the wood based industry. There is tremendous scope to improve productivity of agroforestry plantations through following measures:
• Use of genetically improved planting stock including proven superior clones for future plantations.
• Implementation of improved package of silvicultural and management practices for raising and maintenance of plantations.
• Strengthening of field level technical extension services and massive publicity and awareness campaigns through media.
• Providing strong R&D support through scientific breeding and development, testing & deployment.
• Facilitating flow of bank credit for such plantations through simplification of procedures.
• Assured marketing and buy back arrangements at remunerative prices and preferably with minimum support price declarations in advance.
• State Governments should free farm grown timber species from hassles of securing felling permits and timber transit permits in all states.
• Regulated timber market yards should be established in major timber trading towns to promote transparent trade in timber and prevent exploitation of growers.
• Suitable arrangements should be made for registration of nurseries and certification of planting stock and genetically improved clones to prevent duping of farmers by unscrupulous traders.
• Government should promote investments for agro-forestry development through innovative policies, fiscal incentives and tax benefits.
• Agroforestry plantations enhance country’s tree cover and make significant contributions to carbon sequestration. Govt. should facilitate flow of international funding support to farmers for these carbon sinks.
• Government should consider liberalizing of ceilings on agricultural land holdings at least for waste lands to promote their reclamation for agro-forestry plantations.