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Short rotation coppice – state of the art in Austria   P. LIEBHARD, Th. LEWIS, Chr. KNUST and F. DEIM. 1. Introduction and challenges:

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Short rotation coppice – state of the art in Austria  


1. Introduction and challenges:

In Austria, the natural preconditions for agriculture and forestry are relatively favourable (Tab. 1), also regarding Austria's 8,1 million inhabitants. Nevertheless, the constantly increasing demand for wood can hardly be satisfied with conventional forestry in the future (Fig. 2). The wood demand increases because of the high share of lumber exports, the requirements of the pulp & paper and chipboard industry and the growing bioenergy sector. Thus, additional quantities of wood need to be produced. Short rotation coppice (SRC) plantations on agricultural land are a promising option to contribute to an increased wood supply.

Because of competition for agricultural land and the priority of food and feed production, SRC are likely to be established on marginal land. Despite favourable market options for SRC wood, landowners hesitate to start growing SRC because of high initial investments, irregular cash flows and the long-term commitment.

Tab. 1: Land use in Austria

Tab. 2: Austrian forest inventory data

Fig. 3: Distribution of the „biomass and district heating systems“ in Austria

2. Current energy production and consumption:

Renewables currently have a share of 27.6 % in total energy consumption in Austria. The share of bioenergy is constantly increasing. In contrast, other renewables, especially hydropower, are already fully exploited and cannot be expanded on a large scale (Fig. 1). Firewood and wood chips account for 57 % of overall biomass. Currently, 50 % of the domestic heating demand in Austria is satisfied with renewables. Most of it comes from wood. The implementation of biomass and district heating systems is well distributed in Austria (Fig. 3).

Fig. 1: Renewable energy sources in Austria (2007)

3. Defining short rotation coppice:

SRC is mainly planted on arable land on altitudes between 110 and 1130 meters a.s.l. . Soil types include vertisols, fluvisols, gleysols, podzols and chernozems. Preferred tree species are poplar, willow, false acacia, alder and birch. Field sizes planted with short rotation coppice in Austria vary between 0.1 and 30 ha. Both, the single and the double row system are used. Plantation design varies according to the required stand density and the harvesting technology. Planting densities of 3000 to 12000 trees per hectare and rotation lengths of 2 to 5 years are commonly used. The yield ranges between 7 and 13 tons absolutely dry biomass per ha and year. SRC harvesting techniques range from manual harvest to fully mechanized systems.

Fig. 2: Bioenergy production in Austria (2007)

  • 4. Current research topics:
  • - Planting material: quality; sprouting capacity
  • Tree varieties and site specific optimization of the planting system
  • Weed regulation: mechanically and chemically
  • Erosion protection: especially on slopes
  • SRC and wind protection
  • SRC and agroforestry
  • SRC and carbon sequestration
  • SRC and bird protection
  • legal framework conditions of SRC

5. Conclusion: SRC is gaining importance in Austria as an alternative land use option, which may contribute to satisfy the constantly increasing wood demand for industrial and energy purposes. SRC is a low input production system suitable for marginal land. Some major agronomical aspects, such as SRC establishment, management, harvesting, logistics and yield improvement still need to be optimized. These improvements would make SRC more attractive to land owners. SRC has many positive environmental effects and may even substitute certain forest functions.