Learn more about Plantation
- This article is about crop plantations. For plantations of people, see article Plantation (settlement or colony) for that 17th Century meaning.
A plantation is an intentional planting of a crop, on a larger scale, usually for uses other than cereal production or pasture. The term is most often used for plantings of trees and shrubs. The term tends also to be used for plantings maintained on economic bases other than that of subsistence farming. Crops may be called plantation crops because of their association with a specific type of farming economy. Most of these involve a large landowner, raising crops with economic value rather than for subsistence, with a number of employees carrying out the work. Often it referred to crops newly introduced to a region. In past times it has been associated with slavery, indentured labour, and other economic models of high inequity. However, arable and dairy farming are both usually (but not always) excluded from such definitions. A comparable economic structure in antiquity was the latifundia that produced commercial quantities of olive oil or wine, for export.
 Industrial plantations
Industrial plantations are established to produce a high volume of wood in a short period of time. Plantations are grown by state forestry authorities (for example, the Forestry Commission in Britain) and/or the paper and wood industries and other private landowners (such as Weyerhaeuser and International Paper in the United States, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) in Indonesia). Christmas trees are often grown on plantations as well. In southern and southeastern Asia, rubber, oil palm, and more recently teak plantations have replaced the natural forest.
Industrial plantations are actively managed for the commercial production of forest products. Individual blocks are usually even-aged and often consist of just one or two species. These species can be exotic or indigenous. Industrial plantations are usually large-scale.
Wood production on a tree plantation is generally higher than that of natural forests. While forests managed for wood production commonly yield between 1 and 3 cubic meters per hectare per year, plantations of fast-growing species commonly yield between 20 and 30 cubic meters or more per hectare annually; a Grand Fir plantation at Craigvinean in Scotland has a growth rate of 34 cubic meters per hectare per year (Aldhous & Low 1974), and Monterey Pine plantations in southern Australia can yield up to 40 cubic meters per hectare per year (Everard & Fourt 1974). In 2000, while plantations accounted for 5 percent of global forest, it is estimated that they supplied about 35% of the worlds roundwood .
- Growth cycle
- In the first year, the ground is prepared (usually by some combination of buring, herbicide spraying, and/or ploughing) and then saplings are planted by human crew or by machine. The saplings are usually obtained in bulk from industrial nurseries, which may specialize in selective breeding in order to produce fast growing disease- and pest-resistant strains.
- In the first few years until the canopy closes, the saplings are looked after, and may be dusted or sprayed with fertilizers or pesticides until established.
- After the canopy closes, with the tree crowns touching each other, the plantation is becoming dense and crowded, and tree growth is slowing due to competition. This stage is termed 'pole stage'. When competition does become too intense (for pine trees, when the live crown is less than a third of the tree's total height), it is time to thin out the section. There are several methods for thinning, but were topography permits, the most popular is 'row-thinning', where every third or fourth or fifth row of trees is removed, usually with a harvester. Many trees are removed, leaving regular clear lanes through the section so that the remaining trees have room to expand again. The removed trees are delimbed, loaded onto trucks, and sent to a mill. A typical pole stage plantation tree is 7-30 cm in diameter at breast height [DBH]. Such trees are sometimes not suitable for lumber, but are used as pulp for paper and particleboard, and as chips for Oriented Strand Board [OSB].
- As the trees grow and become dense and crowded again, and the thinning process is repeated. Depending on the climate and species, trees at this age may be thick enough for lumber milling; if not, they are again used as pulp and chips.
- Around year 10-60 the plantation is now mature and (in economic terms) is falling off the back side of its growth curve. That is to say, it is passing the point of maximum wood growth per acre per year, and so is ready for the final harvest. All remaining trees are felled, delimbed, and taken to be processed.
- The ground is cleared, and the cycle is repeated.
Some plantation trees, such as pines and eucalyptus, can be at high risk of fire damage because their leaf oils and resins are flammable to the point of a tree being explosive under some conditions. Conversely, an afflicted plantation can in some cases be cleared of pest species cheaply through the use of a prescribed burn, which kills all lesser plants but does not significantly harm the mature trees.
 Criticism of Industrial Plantations
- Plantations are usually monocultures. That is, the same species of tree is planted across a given area, whereas a conventional forest would contain far more diverse tree species.
- Plantations may include introduced trees not native to the area, including (in a few cases) unconventional types such as hybrid trees and genetically modified trees. Since the primary interest in plantations is to produce wood or pulp, the types of trees found in plantations are those that are best-suited to industrial applications. For example, pine, spruce and eucalyptus are widely used because of their fast growth rate, and are good for paper and timber production.
- Plantations are always young forests. Typically, trees grown in plantations are harvested after 10 to 60 years, rarely up to 120 years. This means that the forests produced by plantations do not contain the type of growth, soil or wildlife typical of old-growth natural forest ecosystems. Most conspicuous is the absence of decaying dead wood, a very important part of natural forest ecosystems.
In the 1970s, Brazil began to establish high-yield, intensively managed, short rotation plantations. These types of plantations are sometimes called fast-wood plantations or fiber farms and often managed on a short-rotation basis, as little as 5 to 15 years. They are becoming more widespread in South America, Asia and other areas. The environmental and social impacts of this type of plantation has caused them to become controversial, In Indonesia for example large multi-national pulp companies have harvested large areas of natural forest without regard for regeneration. From 1980 to 2000, about 50% of the 1.4 million hectares of pulpwood plantations in Indonesia have been established on what was formerly natural forest land.
The replacement of natural forest with tree plantations has also caused social problems. In some countries, again, notably Indonesia, conversions of natural forest are made by with little regard for rights of the local people. Plantations established purely for the production of fiber provide a much narrower range of services then the original natural forest for the local people. India has sought to limit this damage by limiting the amount of land owned by one entity and, as a result, smaller plantations are owned by local farmers who then sell the wood to larger companies. Some large environmental organizations are critical of these high-yield plantations and are running an anti-plantation campaign, notably the Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace.
 Farm or home plantations
Farm or home plantations are typically established for the production of lumber and fire wood for home use and sometimes for sale. Management may be less intensive than with Industrial plantations. In time, this type of plantation can become difficult to distinguish from naturally-regenerated forest.
 Environmental plantations
These may be established for watershed or soil protection. There are established for erosion control, landslide stabilization and windbreaks. Such plantations are established to foster native species and promote forest regeneration on degraded lands as a tool of environmental restoration.
 Ecological impact
Probably the single most important factor a plantation has on the local environment is the site where the plantation is established. If natural forest is cleared for a planted forest then a reduction in biodiversity and loss of habitat will likely result. In some cases, their establishment may involve draining wetlands to replace mixed hardwoods that formerly predominated, with pine species.
If a plantation is established on abandoned agriculture land, or highly degraded land, it could result in an increase in both habitat and biodiversity. A planted forest can be profitably established on lands that will not support agriculture or suffer from lack of natural regeneration.
The tree species used in a plantation is also an important factor. Where non-native varieties or species are grown, few of the native fauna are adapted to exploit these and further biodiversity loss occurs. However, even non-native tree species may serve as corridors for wildlife and act as a buffer for native forest, reducing edge effect.
Once a plantation is established, how it is managed becomes the important environmental factor. The single most important factor of management is the rotation period. Plantations harvested on longer rotation periods (30 years or more) can provide similar benefits of a naturally regenerated forest managed for wood production, on a similar rotation. This is especially true if native species are used. In the case of exotic species, the habitat can be improved significantly if the impact is mitigated by measures such as leaving blocks of native species in the plantation or retaining corridors of natural forest. In Brazil, similar measures are required by government regulations.
 Plantations and natural forest loss
Many forestry experts claim that the establishment of plantations will reduce or eliminate the need to exploit natural forest for wood production. In principle this is true because due to the high productivity of plantations less land is needed. Many point to the example of New Zealand, where 19% of the forest area provides 99% of the supply of industrial roundwood. It has been estimated that the worlds needs for fiber could be met by just 5% of the world forest (Sedjo & Botkin 1997). However in practice plantations are replacing natural forest, for example in Indonesia. According to the FAO, about 7% of the natural closed forest being lost in the tropics is land being converted to plantation. The remaining 93% of the loss is land being converted to agriculture and other uses. Worldwide, an estimated 15% of plantations in tropical countries are established on closed canopy natural forest.
In the Kyoto Protocol, there are proposals encouraging the use of plantations to reduce carbon dioxide levels (though this idea is being challenged by some groups on the grounds that the sequestered CO2 is eventually released after harvest).
 Other types of plantation
Crops may be called plantation crops because of their association with a specific type of farming economy. Most of these involve a large landowner, raising crops with economic value rather than for subsistence, with a number of employees carrying out the work. Often it referred to crops newly introduced to a region. In past times it has been associated with slavery, indentured labour, and other economic models of high inequity. However, arable and dairy farming are both usually (but not always) excluded from such definitions. A comparable economic structure in antiquity was the latifundia that produced commercial quantities of olive oil or wine, for export.
 High value food crops
Plantings of a number of trees or shrubs grown for food or beverage, including tea, coffee, and cacao are generally called plantations. Some spice and high value crops grown from permanent perennial stock, such as black pepper may also be so called. When the holding belongs to a single individual, that person may be called a planter.
Plantings of para rubber, the tree Hevea brasiliensis, are usually called plantations.
Fruit orchards are sometimes considered to be plantations.
 Arable crops
 Slavery, para-slavery and plantations
Slave labour was used extensively to work on early plantations (such as cotton plantations) in the southern states of the United States, and, in modern times, low wages paid to plantation workers are still a part of plantation profitability in some areas with minimal employee-protection legislation. Sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil, worked by slave labour, are perhaps the best example of the plantation system at its height.
In more recent times, overt slavery has been replaced by para-slavery or slavery-in-kind, including the sharecropping system. At its most extreme, workers are in debt bondage: they must work to pay off a debt at such punitive interest rates that it may never be paid off. Others work unreasonably long hours and are paid subsistence wages that (in practice) may only be spent in the company shop.
 Related matters
In the U.S. South, plantations were centered on a plantation house, the residence of the owner, where important business was conducted. The plantations engendered their own characteristic architecture; see e.g. Berkeley Plantation.
In Brazil, a sugarcane plantation was termed an engenho ("engine") and a 17th-century English usage for organized colonial production was "factory". Such colonial social and economic structures are discussed at Plantation economy. Sugar workers on plantations in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean lived in company towns known as Bateys.
 See also
 References and external links
- Trends in Round wood production
- Earth Repair Network Advocates plantation forestry.
- Pulping the South Criticism of industrial plantations.
- Aldhous, J. R. & Low, A. J. (1974). The potential of Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir and Noble Fir in Britain. Forestry Commission Bulletin 49.
- Everard, J. E. & Fourt, D. F. (1974). Monterey Pine and Bishop Pine as plantation trees in southern Britain. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 68: 111-125.
- Savill, P. Evans, J. Auclair, D. Falk, J. (1997). Plantation Silviculture in Europe. Oxford University Press. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-854909-1
- Sedjo, R. A. & Botkin, D. (1997). Using forest plantations to spare natural forests. Environment 39 (10): 15-20, 30.da:Plantage