Quality seedlings pay for themselves

17 January 2014
Quality seedlings pay for themselves

The length of the forest cycle may be reduced by up to 10 years when regeneration is performed carefully. Seedlings play a key role in forest regeneration. UPM has been growing seedlings for decades and also knows the most recent tricks of the trade.

In autumn the busiest growing season is already over at the UPM tree nursery in Joroinen, Finland, but there is still plenty to do. Tens of millions of seedlings require attention. Seedlings have been grown in Joroinen for 34 years. During that time, hundreds of millions of unique seedlings have been delivered around Finland.

“Each seedling is an individual: you cannot find two identical seedlings”, says Anne Immonen, the manager of the nursery.

When you listen to Immonen talk about her work, one thing becomes clear: you cannot just churn out seedlings, you have to grow them with tender care.

“It’s mother nature we’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s challenging, but it’s also what makes our work so interesting. Each year is different, and particularly in recent years winters have been very challenging.”

In 2013 the summer season was exceptionally difficult. Thanks to skilled staff, the nursery made it through cold frosty nights in June and scorching temperatures in July.

Skilled employees and the know-how collected over the years are the main ingredients for growing quality seedlings. Modern equipment also plays a role in supporting production.

Over 30 employees tend to the seedlings at Joroinen. Employee turnover is minimal as learning the job properly takes years.

“When you have a small work community and production takes place on a large scale, everyone has to be on top of their duties.”

Winters are spent planning

Customers are in contact with the nursery in spring, summer and autumn when the seedlings are ready to be delivered, but the production season is longer than this. Production activities start in March and end in mid-November.

The season ends with snowmaking to cover the tens of millions of seedlings—or children as Immonen calls them—under a protective blanket of snow.

“Snowmaking is required because we can no longer rely on Mother Nature to provide us with snow. Finnish plants are used to a protective cover of snow”, Immonen says.

Snowmaking ensures that the seedlings can enjoy stable conditions during winter. The snow protects the seedlings from extremely cold periods and the scorching spring sun that can damage plants.

The nursery does not shut down completely during winter even if the “children” are enjoying their winter dormancy. “The winter season is reserved for planning. We also have a lot of buildings and machinery that are maintained and serviced during winter. When the actual production season begins, we are so busy that there is no time for planning.”

Employees also have their summer holidays in winter. The summer season is so hectic with the nursery operating almost 24/7 that holidays cannot be fitted into the schedule.

It all starts with a seed

Spruce seedlings leave the nursery when they are 20 to 25 centimetres tall. The seedlings are then 12 to 18 months old, but in fact, their story has begun much earlier. Everything starts with the seed that is carefully selected based on the customer’s forest and its growing conditions.

“We deliver seedlings to different parts of Finland, so we have to know the origin of each seed. This enables us to deliver suitable seedlings to Central Finland, Southern Finland or anywhere else in the country”, Immonen says.

“Our seed collection is like a wine cellar. We know the conditions of each year, and it’s part of our expertise to help customers find good batches.”

In this sense, seedlings are custom-made products that cannot be created in a hurry. The orders for seedlings being grown this spring have been received at the end of last year, and the growing of seedlings for 2017 will begin next summer. “This ensures that our supply and customer demand meet.”

The seedlings produced by the nursery are one of the manifestations of UPM’s extensive forest know-how and expertise. The nursery continuously develops its activities and gains new knowledge. “We perform experiments in order to be able to develop and also collaborate with the Finnish Forest Research Institute. This provides us with better and biologically more functional seedlings”, Immonen explains.

UPM’s size and the company’s own forests make it possible to thoroughly test new methods in practice before adopting them in production. When services are provided to customers, they have already been carefully tested. New methods are not adopted until the company is positive that they work.

Forest renewal pays for itself

“Establishing and regenerating stands is an important work stage. Our goal is to ensure that customers succeed in it on their first try”, Immonen says.

A successful forest renewal project is a source of joy for many years, and the financial input will eventually pay itself back manyfold.

“Soil preparation is very important for regeneration to succeed. Trying to save on forest regeneration costs is generally not a good idea because regeneration affects the forest cycle. If forest regeneration is performed carefully, the length of the forest cycle may be reduced by up to 10 years. This has a tremendous financial impact.”

Each spruce tree, be it in an extensive forest or in a family living room at Christmas, has its own story.

“The story of a spruce tree that has grown to a height of 1.5 to 2 metres may have begun ten years earlier with the selection of a suitable seed”, Immonen says.

“Most Finns would not think of using anything other than a traditional spruce for a Christmas tree. It’s part of our heritage and history. It’s a beautiful tree in its simplicity and nothing can beat its wonderful scent.”

Lari Vesander

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