Field report from Chris, from a recent visit to the plantations.
The trees are growing well. Our Forester Jose Deago made a small change in managing the trees that has paid big dividends: allowing the lower branches on the the trees to develop more before pruning them. In the past, we pruned the saplings a bit too early, which we now understand can slow their development. The effectiveness of this approach is apparent because we see second years trees that are surpassing three year old trees which were pruned under the old system.
Some of the third year teak is ~10 meters tall and ~8 cm in diameter - both good numbers. Also, when you look at our plantations the plant and animal ecology is extremely healthy compared to that of a monoculture teak plantation. Our mixed-species approach and selective manual cleaning is resulting in rapid regeneration of the biodiverse understory.
Part of the reason for the prolific undergrowth is Jose's management plan. Jose is a believer in controlled competition. He allows competing vegetation to grow around the young trees, forcing them to grow straighter to compete for sunlight. This has the added benefit of slowing the spread of disease and pestilence in the plantations. We've seen the success of this approach played out in controlling a mahogany pest that is typically controlled with chemicals. Increased vegetation in the plantations creates "walls" between rows of trees, preventing the pest from passing easily.
Liriano and Ino, PE's field supervisors, joined me on the survey of the plantations. They are preparing for the selective cleaning of some of the trees and a general cleaning of other parts of the plantations. The goal is to reduce the overgrowth to a point that the saplings can still be pressured by the competition from the overgrowth, but not overwhelmed. They will also do some pruning of the rosewood trees in the coming months. The rosewood tends to bifurcate, so in order to produce a straight trunk (best for timber), they will prune off competing trunks at the trees' base.
In January we will probably thin a number of teak from the 2007 Friends and Family plantation. Although this is not a commercial harvest, we're pleased that the trees have grown so rapidly that a thinning is necessary at year four. Typically plantations receive a first thinning at year five. An intern from the Zamarono Agricultural University in Honduras will be doing tests with the thinnings to make biochar, a product that can potentially be sold to generate a small return for investors.