The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


The Impact of Biotechnology on Planted Industrial Forests:
Biotechnology’s Applicant to a Unique Crop

By Roger A. Sedjo
Resources for the Future
Washington, DC

The past four decades have seen planted industrial forests, which utilize a periodic cropping approach, transformed from a minor source of industrial wood to a major supply source, which now account for an estimated one-third of the world’s production of industrial wood. Most of the increase in production from planted forests comes from intensively managed forest plantations, which generally adopt modern technologies. Much of the biotechnology technology available for agriculture is directly applicable to planted forests, e.g. herbicide and disease resistant genes, and forest products industries in some countries are undertaking pilot application of existing biotechnologies. Additionally, the opportunities for customizing biotechnologies to planted forests are substantial. The opportunities appear greatest for the development of technologies that allow for certain wood fiber characteristics that are readily adaptable for pulp and paper making. These modification include customizing the fibers so that they provide better pulp and paper characteristics such as reducing the amount of lignin in the wood fiber or to providing for lignin that is more readily removable and thus cost reducing.

This paper briefly discusses changes in the sources of industrial wood in recent decades as planted forests, and especially high-tech intensively managed industrial forest plantations have rapidly emerged to become a very substantial supplier of industrial wood. Biotechnology that has applications to forestry, both that developed originally for other crops that has promise for planted forests and biotechnology which is being developed specifically for applications to forestry, is be discussed. Health, safety and environmental problems associated with GMOs in forestry is also examined. Finally, estimates for the impacts of the new technology on plantation forest and the industrial wood sector will be developed.

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