Paulownia plantations in Italy and Europe - Problems and solutions
Although, as seen, the paulownia tree arrived in Europe well over a century ago, until about 20 years ago the use of the plant was limited to ornamental purposes.
Only towards the end of the last century, in fact, on the initiative of some groups which, taking their cue from the Asian and in particular Chinese market, began to import varieties with adequate characteristics and propose the cultivation of paulownia for commercial purposes.
In countries such as Spain, France, Italy, and later Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, a strong interest has therefore been created in cultivating paulownia for the production of wood and biomass, also given the expectations of very high earnings.
On closer inspection, however, the cultivation of paulownia in Europe has not had adequate development, especially considering the enormous potential of the plant, and the fact that its timber and derived products are notoriously highly appreciated and requested by operators in the sector.
In recent years, therefore, Paulownia Italy has tried to understand the reasons that have slowed down the development of cultivation, traveling to various European countries in order to visit different plantations and discussing with different operators.
The picture that has been presented has therefore helped us to understand the real problems, the reasons for the failures, and to elaborate decisions and strategies aimed at avoiding making the same mistakes made by many operators over the last twenty years.
MAIN PROBLEMS FOUND
A - GENETIC MATERIAL USED
Almost always, with rare exceptions, those who started paulownia plantations did so using genetic or low quality material, or relying on seedlings that had never previously been tested in similar climatic zones and soils; in practice, we proceeded on the basis of the mistaken belief that a variety or a hybrid of paulownia that guaranteed fast growth in areas of the world thousands of kilometers away, should have guaranteed the same results in Italy or Europe.
Today, after almost 20 years of experimentation, we are instead able to know which are the hybrids that in general are best suited to the land and climates of the areas in which we want to plant, significantly reducing the margins of error.
Furthermore, the use of inadequate genetic material has been aggravated by the reckless choice of several seedling sellers, who, driven by the desire to make quick and easy profits, have often sold plants multiplied from seed obtained regardless of characteristics and quality. of the same (see in this sense our section on the differences between in vitro and seed multiplication).
B - CHOICE OF AREAS AND LANDS WHERE TO PLANT
As already seen in another section, although paulownia adapts easily to very different soils and climatic conditions, this does not mean that in order to optimize the results of a commercial plantation, it is not necessary to select the most suitable soils and areas; very often, however, no attention was paid to these aspects, and planted in unsuitable areas and soils, with consequently unsatisfactory results.
As we recalled in the appropriate section, before starting a paulownia plantation, it will be essential to pay attention to certain factors such as the structure of the soil, the presence of aquifers or rocky banks in the first meters of depth, accentuated salinity, presence of strong winds etc ...
C - THE CHOICE OF THE SIXTH OF THE PLANT AND THE MANAGEMENT OF THE PLANTATIONS
One of the biggest mistakes made, which is still very frequent today, was the choice of the wrong implant sixth.
Also in this case, on the advice of plant sellers, obviously interested in increasing sales and their profits, farmers / investors have almost always opted for a sixth plant (4x4 meters, with about 600 plants per hectare) which it revealed a choice that often seriously compromised the profitability of the investment.
In the vast majority of plantations planted with this sixth, regardless of the type of hybrid used, even in cases where the plants have shown significant growth rates during the first 3-4 years, starting from the 4-5 year the growth it has slowed down to almost settle on the growth levels of "normal" wood plants; the reduced spaces between the rows and between the plants on the same row, in fact, by limiting the light available to the plants, significantly slows down their growth, preventing the plants from reaching the minimum trunk diameter necessary for the trees to acquire a commercial value interesting for companies that process timber.
It is in fact important to underline how the paulownia trunk is characterized by a hole, the position of which inside the trunk is practically never perfectly central, and that therefore in almost all processes it reduces the useful part of wood by increasing the part that is used for secondary processing, and consequently having a reduced commercial value; for this reason, paulownia trunks, as they are appreciated, sought after and valued if with a diameter over 40 cm, if they are less than 30 cm, have a very low commercial value.
In almost all of Europe, over the last 20 years, many of those who have planted paulownia with a 4x4 m layout, have found themselves having, except for the perimeter plants that received the most light, plants with an average of 28-30 cm, practically almost without commercial value !!!
In confirmation of what has been said, we ourselves, during one of our visits to plantations abroad, have had the opportunity to personally verify that in these plantations, in which in practice the growth rate had stopped, as soon as you cut half of plants, and therefore doubled the spaces between them, the growth levels returned to the initial ones in the following year.
D - OTHER MATTERS THAT CONSTITUTE A LIMIT TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF PAULOWNIA IN ITALY
Other elements that constituted a limit to the development of paulownia in Italy were of an economic-financial and bureaucratic nature; if on the one hand, in fact, the cultivation methods proposed by those who proposed the seedlings were such as to allow the first economic returns only at the time of the first cutting of the trees and the consequent sale of the timber, on the other, in many regions, nothing or almost it was done to include paulownia cultivation among those eligible for CAP contributions or other cultivation contributions.
OUR SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS
The experiences and the data collected over the last few years have therefore helped us to understand the problems and pushed us to seek solutions to them, in order to make the cultivation of paulownia more and more interesting and profitable, not only in purely economic terms. but also ecological and environmental.
Our attention is therefore not limited to the research and development of the best paulownia plants, but we have also tried to change the approach and the relationship with the people interested in cultivating it, with the aim that is not to sell seedlings but to carry out successful projects together with the investor, which bring benefits to all those involved; in this sense we try to pay more attention to what are the conditions in which you want to start the plantation, and often the investor is advised to give up the idea of cultivating paulownia, in order to avoid failures and useless investments.
As for the other problems, however, we have dealt with them by building a turnkey plantation proposal, which does not limit itself to offering interested people paulownia plants, but which concretely offers investors various opportunities to associate with the paulownia plantation itself. .