Sustainable Forest Management
Protecting Domestic Forest Resources
In recent years, there has been concern in Japan that the deterioration of planted forests such as Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress throughout the country is impairing shared benefit of forests, such as water source recharge. It is said that the profitability of the forestry industry has deteriorated due to low lumber prices, which has made it impossible to properly care for the forests, such as by thinning. In order to prevent further devastation of forests by revitalizing the forestry industry, the government of Japan has set a goal of raising wood self-sufficiency rate to roughly 50% by 2025. Sumitomo Forestry will contribute to the Japanese government's goal by expanding the area of managed forests, introducing smart forestry, propagating fast-growing trees, developing afforestation and silviculture technologies, expanding its container nursery business, and promoting solution businesses that utilize ICT.
Breakdown of Company-Owned Forests
Preserving and Increasing Forest Resources Through Management of Company-Owned Forests
The Sumitomo Forestry Group owns a total of approximately 48,000 ha (about 1/800 of the national land area) of forest land area. Company-owned forests are categorized as either "working forests", where the production of timber is the priority, or "conservation forests", where conservation of the environment is the focus.
Sumitomo Forestry acquired a forestry certification from Japan's Sustainable Green Ecosystem Council (SGEC) *1 for all company-owned forests*2 in 2006 and third-party evaluations have confirmed that the forests are being properly managed, including with regard to measures to conserve biodiversity. New forest purchases after the acquisition of the forest certification have each been under evaluation for certification and our certification rate is 100%.
Forest operations include appropriate thinning, which helps to preserve and increase forest resources, while taking into consideration the surrounding environment including the ecosystem. Sumitomo Forestry also aims for highly productive management of its forests based on operational plans that follow the principle of performing the appropriate management for the appropriate tree species on the suited land.
*1 Japan's own forestry certification system through which forest management is verified as sustainable by third parties. Certification is based on seven criteria that include the preservation of biodiversity and the conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources. Due to the June 2016 approval of mutual recognition of the PEFC*3 international forest certification system, international recognition has increased.
*2 The forests owned by Sumitomo Forestry exclude the lands leased to Kawanokita Development Co., Ltd., which is a Group company responsible for operating a golf course, and the surrounding forest. Newly purchased forests are excluded because they underwent expanded inspections during the subsequent fiscal year.
*3 The programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes is an international NGO that mutually authenticates certification standards created in each country and region as criteria to be shared internationally. 55 forest certification schemes are members of PEFC, of which 47 are mutually certified (as of September 30, 2021).
Distribution and Area of Company-Owned Forests (as of December 31, 2021)
Forest Revitalization Initiatives
Seedling Production for Regional Revitalization
Increasing number of municipalities are working to foster forest resources that are not yet effectively utilized as one part of regional revitalization measures. In addition, Japanese cedar, Japanese cypress, and Japanese larch planted after World War II have entered the harvest season, and the area of clear-cut forests has been increasing in recent years. As the area of reforestation increases after clear cutting, it is desirable to establish a stable supply system for seedlings, but it is expected that the supply will become insufficient in the future due to a decrease in the number of growers.
Sumitomo Forestry was one of the first companies to begin modernizing its containerized seedling production. Utilizing its independently researched and developed production technologies, Sumitomo Forestry will contribute to the sustainability of forest resources and active resource production through the operation of facility-based production facilities with appropriate environmental management.
Specifically, we opened an environmentally controlled nursery tree production facility in Hyuga City, Miyazaki Prefecture in 2012, followed by another facility in Mombetsu City, Hokkaido. By controlling temperature and humidity in the facilities, we are able to produce seedlings year-round, dramatically increasing production per unit area compared to conventional open-air seedling production. We opened production facilities in Gero City, Gifu Prefecture in fiscal 2016, Motoyama Town, Kochi Prefecture in fiscal 2017, Midori City, Gunma Prefecture in fiscal 2018, and Minamiaizu Town, Fukushima Prefecture in fiscal 2019. We have established a system capable of producing 1.9 million seedlings per year nationwide.
In addition to production at our own facilities, in fiscal 2020 we began outsourcing production in Gifu Prefecture, and in fiscal 2021 Sumitomo Forestry will provide technical assistance in Nichinan Town, Tottori Prefecture. We are also linking to local municipalities to contribute to the revitalization of the region by establishing greenhouses with local employment as well as the development and standardization of new technology related to seedling cultivation in addition to as well.
Cultivating Sumitomo Forestry Seedlings Throughout Japan
Efforts in Fast-Growing Trees
Sumitomo Forestry has begun efforts in fast-growing tree forests that are gaining more attention in recent years. Fast-growing trees are trees that grow faster than Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress and can be harvested in a shorter felling season, and include China fir, bead tree, and willow trees.
The Hyuga Forestry Office is conducting test plantings of China fir in company-owned forests in Kumamoto and Miyazaki prefectures. This test monitors aspects that include the reduction in weeding and a growth comparison with Japanese cedar through growth surveys and other research to examine the potential as a new tree species for garden vegetation.
In addition, the Forestry Department and the Tsukuba Research Institute are cooperating to test the planting of fast-growing broadleaf trees suitable for fuel wood.
Development of Forestry Drones to Transport Seedlings to Reduce the Labor of Planting Work
Workers are currently carrying seedlings weighing roughly 10 kg on their back when planting Japanese cedar, Japanese cypress and other tree species. Particularly in Japan, the terrain is quite hilly and places a huge physical burden on workers, which makes it difficult to secure a labor force.
That is why Sumitomo Forestry has been advancing the development of drones to transport these seedlings jointly with drone manufacturers and distribution companies that have proven themselves in the agricultural field. This project has conducted repetitive proof-of-concept tests in company-owned forests by flying drones safely over complex terrain and in harsh weather to deliver the seedlings safely. Based on these tests and various improvements, sales of the Morito Forestry Drone to transport seedlings began throughout Japan in fiscal 2020.
In the course of our sales activities, we have learned that there is a growing need in the field to transport not only saplings, but also heavy materials such as those used to prevent damage by animals, which has been on the rise in recent years. We are therefore working to improve the working environment in the forestry industry in general by promoting improvements with an eye toward the transportation of forestry materials.
Launch of FRD Forestry Roadway Design Support System
Forests in Japan often have insufficient forest roads or strip roads in place which prevent smooth management of forests and transport of the timber that is harvested. Currently, when constructing forest roads or strip roads, lines are drawn by hand over a paper topographical map before visiting the site to see if that plan for the road network can be executed as is. This process of examination is usually done over and over again. The work to create these line drawn plans as well as check and verify the site rely heavily on individual intuition and experience as well as cost a vast amount of time and labor.
This software takes advantage of precise topographical data obtained from aerial laser and other measurements to design forestry road networks such as forest roads and strip roads. The main feature is a function for automatic design able to automatically create the line drawings by inputting the site of departure and destination in the operation screen. This feature creates line drawn plans based on parameters, including requirements such as longitudinal slope and the curvature radius, width, and operation costs specified in advance. In addition, we have devised a way for software to recognize dangerous terrain. This software packs more features than necessary for the job, such as allowing the design of safety lines that reflect areas which should be avoided due to potential collapse and other circumstances when creating a plan. The on-site exploration of the line drawn plans for roadways designed in the software offers efficient on-site verification.
Spreading the Use of the "Tether" Winch-Assist Type Forestry Work Equipment
Sumitomo Forestry plans to use a grant from the Forestry Agency in fiscal 2022 to improve the Tether winch-assist work equipment developed jointly with Nippon Caterpillar LLC and Sun-earth Inc. and to conduct demonstrations of the equipment at forestry enterprises throughout Japan.
We will continue to use the machine to improve the safety of forestry operations on sloping terrain and to realize environmentally friendly forestry.
Improvement and diffusion of remote undergrowth cutters f remote undergrowth cutters or forestry
In collaboration with the Japan Federation of Forestry Cooperative Associations and the Norinchukin Bank, we are conducting demonstration tests of remote clear underbush cutters for the forestry industry.
The remote type clear underbush cutters reduces the workload of clearing the ground and cutting the undergrowth at the time of planting, and improves work safety by replacing the conventional hand-held type clear underbush cutters. The aim of the project is to promote reforestation and to secure the support of forestry leaders. The company will conduct repeated experiments, including improvement of clear underbush cutters made overseas and devising new work methods, with the aim of commercializing and spreading the technology by fiscal 2022.