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Sustainable Forestry for Gum Rosin and Turpentine Production

Thursday, August 1, 2013   (0 Comments)
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Sustainable Forestry for Gum Rosin and Turpentine Production

"Today only 15% of global gum rosin production is done in a sustainable manner,” says Alex Cunningham, President of AR Eldorado in Brazil and Chairman of the Rosin Committee for the Pine Chemicals Association."Why?', I asked- and there began our whirlwind tour of tapping techniques, forestry innovation strategies, and crude gum processing in Brazil.

Alex holds an annual Pine Chemicals meeting for Brazilian companies and this year he invited me to Sao Paulo to give a brief presentation on the Pine Chemicals Association for the gathering of over 40 attendees.After the meeting, Alex, his lovely wife and I spent several days touring the Brazilian pine chemicals industry.

The tour began with my tapping a pine tree – fortunately I don’t think I hurt the tree too badly, but I doubt they will hire me for serious work.The work is hard, hot, outside and apparently there are occasional snakes (we didn’t see any).A good tapper can work over 1500 trees per day in a planted forest - hard to imagine.Then I am told that tapping trees in Brazil is easy as the ground is flat and the trees are all planted and close to each other.So I conclude the big sustainability issue that Alex is concerned about must be labor – not exactly!

We then visit a small gum rosin production plant.Sticky stuff but well managed and a reasonably good safety record.Not a terribly complex separation process to produce the rosin and turpentine and apparent good quality management.This can’t be the problem.

As we leave the resin plant operations, I am struck with the complete management of the tree.Six to eight years to grow large enough to tap (this apparently varies widely by pine species and location), six to eight years of tapping, then the tree is cut for lumber.The sawdust, chips and shredded limbs are fully recovered and used as fuel either on site or sold.The maximum value is extracted from the tree and it is 100% utilized. One site I visited managed the forest, collected and processed the gum base and then operated a sawmill to convert the logs to usable lumber.

Next we hit the road and stopped to enjoy a great Brazilian lunch with enough food on the table to feed a small army - then on to the pine nursery.There we see cloned seedlings, controlled pollination, selected seeds from high producing trees and a strong sense of purpose to plant a forest of fast growing, high gum base yielding trees.Interestingly gum production can vary by as much as 800% between a hybridized highly productive tree and an average tree.I saw hybrid trees that were double in size at the same age as the standard species tree and hybrids where gum production was substantially greater than the standard tree.We are getting close to the answer.

Alex believes the key to sustainability for gum rosin and turpentine is forestry management.Most Brazilian rosin producers own or control the pine trees and the pine plantations.This is a significant capital investment for them and they use the plantation like a crop farm, planting improved species of trees, waiting until they are ready to produce gum, harvesting the gum and then the tree and then replanting with ever improved species to repeat the process.In other parts of the world, often the trees are not replanted or another species is planted once the tree is harvested.The tapping moves to another area, often in more difficult terrain where the tapping operations are far more inefficient and costly.The tree productivity is not improved as the forest is not managed for improving efficiency.

As the cost of labor increases globally, Alex believes these areas that do not practice strategic forestry will become less competitive in the world market.Strategic forestry management is dependent on many factors and is clearly more difficult in some areas.

The good news is that with proper forestry strategies, there are more than adequate forestry areas globally to readily meet the global demand for gum rosin today and for the future.

The issue of sustainability is on the minds of chemical industry executives today across the globe as pressures from regulators, increasing labor costs, changing economics of supply, government taxes and incentives and other forces continue to change the supply environment for many chemical products.

The Pine Chemicals Industry is no different and the PCA is working to educate, advocate and focus efforts where we can to help the sustainability of our industry.