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The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is the key focus of every rubber plantation. As a supplier of natural rubber and rubberwood, this is one of the most important sources of renewable raw materials.

PLANTATIONS AND NURSERIES

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is the key focus of every rubber plantation. As a supplier of natural rubber and rubberwood, this is one of the most important sources of renewable raw materials. The high level of demand for its natural products has meant that agricultural and forestry scientists have been working intensively with the rubber tree for decades, on the one hand to further develop its robustness and, on the other hand, to optimise its latex and wood yield. In order to meet the high and constantly increasing level of demand, the rubber tree is predominantly cultivated in plantations nowadays. Optimised rotation periods of around 15 years ensure that, in addition to daily latex production, high timber yields are achieved regularly. Nowadays, South-East Asia, Latin America, China and West Africa are among the most important cultivation regions for the rubber tree, which is one of the hardwood species and originally comes from the South American rainforests. In South-East Asia in particular, where more than 70% of global latex production is generated, rubber tree species have been developed by breeding, crossbreeding and cloning. In addition to rapid growth, above-average latex production and a high wood volume, they are characterised by their durability and resistance. Newer plantations cultivated with rubber species from these generations are already producing more than 4,000 kg of latex per hectare per year after only four to six years. Latex is obtained from the rubber tree when it is cut in the proper manner. The latex juice flows in the sapwood area of the trunk, directly under the bark in capillaries, in which water and dissolved nutrients circulate in addition to the latex juice. If the latex juice is not stabilised, it will coagulate into natural rubber after a few hours. The coagulation stops the latex from running out. Woodsource AG uses the rubber plantations as sustainable, agricultural and forestry-based commercial timberland. The company has the necessary skills and experience, as well as the correspondingly developed network and qualified personnel to implement all agricultural and forestry activities in an efficient and results-oriented manner. Woodsource concentrates on the main tasks:

a) Organic cultivation of rubber plantations

b) Sustainable management of rubber plantations

c) Maximum latex yield

d) Optimum development of the wood volume

e) Best wood quality

New, robust rubber tree species are characterised by high latex yields and large wood volumes. In principle, trees do not need much more than light and water to grow. However, a rubber plantation designed for sustainable profitability is all about achieving the highest possible latex yield, the largest possible wood volume and the best possible wood quality. The prerequisites for this are created by optimum management. A comparison between unmanaged or poorly managed rubber plantations and systematically and optimally managed rubber plantations shows striking differences in yields. While unmanaged or poorly managed rubber plantations generate annual net yields of 1-3%, properly managed rubber plantations generate annual net yields of 8% and above. The right management measures at the right time are the key to modern plantation management. The intensity of the cultivation is determined by the ongoing analysis of the latex yield, tree growth and wood quality.

 

ENCOURAGED BY THE CLIMATIC CONDITIONS, RUBBER TREES REACH A HEIGHT OF 4 METRES WITHIN 12 MONTHS.

NURSERIES

The young rubber seedlings are grown in the nursery before they are planted. The biological reproduction method of cloning (also known as grafting) is used here. With this method, the germling of a chosen rubber tree variety is used in each of the stem plants and left to sprout. The key indicators of a good seedling are strength, vitality and quality. The nursery aims to achieve these seedling characteristics in order to facilitate the stressful replanting of the rubber seedlings into the plantation and to enable them to grow well there. In the nursery, the seeds and germlings thrive in a protected and controlled environment. The seeds for the stem plants sprout in seedbeds within 8-10 days so that the most robust of them can be selected and re-potted in special seed containers for further growth. During the following two months, the stem plants undergo further selection processes until the most vital and strongest plants are finally seeded with a germling of the chosen rubber tree variety. Over the following 2-3 months, the germlings develop into young rubber seedlings and go through different selection and assimilation phases. From the start of the rainy season, when the planting phase begins, the best young plants are transported to the plantation in special, well-watered transport boxes, where they are planted by trained employees in pre-prepared planting holes. The Woodsource land manager TIMBERFARM SA runs its own nursery and uses only seed and germling material from rubber trees that have been tested in plantation operations. These further-developed descendants of the original Brazilian rubber tree are, on the one hand, very hardy and, on the other hand, enormously productive. Under optimal conditions, their annual rubber yield can exceed 4,000 kg per hectare and, after only fifteen years, the individual rubber trees can reach a wood volume of up to 2 m3.

PLANTING

The 3×6 m or 4×4.5 m planting systems that are used depending on the terrain are the most commonly used planting models and those recommended by scientists. They result in a ground area of 18 m2 per tree and allow the planting of around 550 rubber trees per hectare (10,000 m2). As the young rubber trees need a lot of water at this stage in order to grow well and develop strong roots in the new environment, the planting takes place from the onset of the rainy season. This means that the young rubber trees achieve a sufficient level of robustness during the planting year for the subsequent first dry season. Thanks to ongoing and careful maintenance and regular rainfall, the young plants grow into young rubber trees of one metre in height and above within a few weeks.

HARVESTING AND UTILISATION

From the 5th year onwards, the development of the rubber trees has progressed so far that regular latex extraction can begin. Latex harvesting is usually carried out once or twice a week. Specially trained employees cut the tree bark with a special tool at a downward-facing angle, without damaging the outermost layer of the trunk, which releases a milky, slightly viscous tree sap, which is latex milk. One person is responsible for the rubber trees over a total area of 3-6 hectares, usually harvesting one hectare per day and maintaining the others or preparing them for the next harvest process. The latex milk flows down along the channel of the cut, where it is collected in a container attached to the tree. After about 2-3 hours, the latex flow stops because the latex milk coagulates due to a biological reaction and the latex stops flowing out of the tree. At this point, the employees responsible for the latex extraction return to the rubber trees, collect the natural rubber that has been collected either as liquid latex milk or as coagulated rubber lumps (called cup lumps), weigh and record the natural rubber yield obtained for each plot and transport the harvest to a collection point on the plantation. Before the latex that is obtained is marketed as natural rubber, it is processed into a marketable form in several processes in the company’s own plant, as well as washing and drying processes. The settlement and payment of the net proceeds from the sale of rubber takes place on a monthly basis for the previous month.