To meet future demand for high quality homegrown trees, Maelor Forest Nurseries Ltd has invested £4 million in a new miniplug production facility to secure a continuous and steady supply of tree stocks and also improve quality and resilience.
Traditional methods of growing saplings for production forestry involves sowing seed on prepared beds in the field. Optimum conditions are critical, including favourable soil structure, moisture, temperature, as well as the need to protect the plants from pests, disease and weeds.
These conditions vary at the micro and macro scale and can create variability in the crop, which negatively impacts downstream operations.
Recent years have seen increased weather events, with the frequency and severity expected to accelerate in the future. These can negatively impact the growth of the crop and lead to catastrophic losses. There are issues with the labour availability, which is required for sowing, irrigation, field applications and weeding.
Ben Goh, Maelor Forest Nurseries commercial manager commented: “The above factors combine to make outdoor seed sowing and establishment one of the highest risk steps in the production of trees on the nursery and the hardest to commercially plan.
“By way of mitigation, Maelor Forest Nurseries has taken the step to invest £4 million in a miniplug production facility at its main production site near Wrexham in Wales with the aim of minimising these risks whilst simultaneously improving quality and increasing production capacity.”
The new facility will enable seeds to be sown directly into trays with the germination taking place in a controlled environment to improve the consistency, yield and security of the supply chain. An additional benefit is automated transplanting, either in the field or into larger cells. Cell grown stock is widely used in other countries and there is said to be a growing market in the UK.
Maelor conducted field trials between October 2020 and April 2021, including auto-planting over 5 million miniplugs. These reportedly demonstrated excellent yield and consistency of the crop and enabled the green light to be given for the facility.
It consists of three elements: a seed sowing line, covered growing area and outdoor hardening off space. These are connected by a roller bench system to reduce the manual handling of trays.
The facility is part of a reshaping operation of Maelor Forest Nurseries, which started with the opening of its state-of-the-art research facility in 2020. Work on the miniplug site commenced in summer 2021, with completion due in spring 2022. The first crops are expected to be dispatched in winter 2023/24.