UPM has been planting eucalyptus in Uruguay for a quarter century. Cultivating eucalyptus for pulp production is a task that requires commitment and long-term R&D.
Eucalyptus plantations were first established in Uruguay in the early 1990s after new legislation was passed to boost the forest industry.
Mats Backman, Director of Technical Customer Service at UPM Pulp, was involved in founding the very first plantations in Uruguay.
“Eucalyptus trees are mature for harvesting within about ten years, so it was absolutely crucial to start these plantations in order to secure cost-effective raw materials and the international competitiveness of the forest industry,” says Backman.
“We have continued developing the species chosen for cultivation through systematic breeding. Here, our ultimate goal is to ensure that our pulp remains as uniform as possible, as this is crucial for our customers’ production processes,” Backman adds.
The plantations are managed by Forestal Oriental, a UPM-owned company active in Uruguay since 1990. The company currently owns 230,000 hectares of land, 140,000 hectares of which is planted. The rest is either conserved or used for purposes such as cattle grazing.
Increasing pulp production
Most of the harvest from UPM’s eucalyptus plantations in Uruguay is used to make pulp at the UPM Fray Bentos mill. The mill began operations in November 2007.
Located on the banks of the River Uruguay, the mill produces bleached hardwood eucalyptus pulp.
“The mill’s performance has been excellent and our expectations have been exceeded in every respect. We have increased annual pulp production capacity to 1.3 million tonnes, which was the main objective of UPM in Uruguay,” says Marcos Battegazzore, R&D Director at UPM Pulp.
UPM employs 200 persons directly at the mill. In total, 800 people enter the Fray Bentos mill site daily to work on different operations ranging from production and maintenance to logistics.
In addition to pulp, the Fray Bentos mill generates electricity, which is sold to the national grid. The mill generates nearly 9% of the Uruguayan electricity supply.
The Fray Bentos mill adheres to very strict targets with regard to environmental emissions, occupational safety and production quality. Compliance is evaluated constantly.
Eucalyptus output doubled
Ricardo Methol, Technical Development & Planning Manager in charge of UPM’s plantations, confirms that tree breeding efforts aim both to increase the productivity of the plantations as well as improve the quality of their wood fibre.
“The fibre should be as dense as possible in order to maximize wood use in pulp production. We have even doubled our yield per hectare in some areas, which is an extremely positive result.”
Keeping up the same momentum in the future will be a challenge, as global warming and climate change are having a significant impact on growth conditions.
“In the meantime, our rigorous R&D is a visible token of our vision, goals and commitment in the long term,” he adds.
From the very outset, UPM Forestal Oriental has been evaluating and monitoring the plantations’ impact on the environment in co-operation with research facilities, universities and environmental organisations.
“This long-term monitoring proves that we are able to maintain extensive plantation operations in a sustainable way,” Methol says.
UPM has taken its eco-commitment one step further by establishing a network of conservation areas covering approximately 6,000 hectares.
“We have set up nature reserves on our company-owned lands, which is rare for private companies in Uruguay. Environmental organisations are also actively involved in land management planning in these conservation areas.”
UPM’s commitment to operating responsibly is testified by the fact that all of its plantations are FSC and PEFC certified.
UPM is also an active member in the WWF’s New Generation Plantation Project (NGPP), which promotes key features of healthy, diverse and multi-functional forest landscapes.
Symbiosis with traditional farming
UPM has been co-operating with private landowners since 2005 within the framework of the FOMENTO Programme. Under the programme, UPM Forestal Oriental supplies the tree seedlings and is responsible for planting and harvesting the trees later on.
The plantations offer income for agriculture, while the forest industry is expanding its planted areas with the support of farmers.
Cattle breeder and farmer Roberto Symonds has planted 150 hectares of eucalyptus on his farm since 2009. He sees the plantations as a great way to supplement his income from traditional farming.
“The planted forests provide shelter for the animals. Our plantations are mainly located in areas that are of little use for cattle breeding or farming. Diversification is another incentive, as the demand for wood is increasing, which raises the value of the plantations,” Symonds explains.
Today, approximately one third of the plantations managed by UPM are located on privately owned lands.