Hybrid Poplar - Biomass, Pulp & Paper
Hybrid poplar is one of the fastest growing trees in North America. In the seventies, American plant breeders created hybrid poplar by cross-pollinating various poplar varieties with one another. Fast growing specimens where chosen from cottonwood, quaking aspen, balsam poplar and Lombardy poplar and bred.
A Hybrid poplar tree farm earns gross revenue between $25,000 and $50,000 per acre in year 12 and double that in year 20.
The idea of hybridizing poplar trees is not new. In the 1800’s English plant breeders developed Lombardy poplar, an extremely tall, fast growing tall trees, which was planted to create windbreaks between farm fields.
Hybrid Poplar & Forestry
In America, the development of a fast growing Hybrid poplar was initiated by the pulp and paper industry. Although, the English Lombardy poplar was fast growing, it lacked a sufficient length of fiber and lignin used to manufacture paper products.
Hybrid Poplar Tree Farm - Benefits
- Hybrid poplar grows six to ten times faster than similar species
- Hybrid poplar tree farms can see economic returns in 10 to 12 years
- Hybrid poplar research has reduced the disease problems with the development of disease resistant trees
- Hybrid poplar is easy to plant and require little maintenance
- Growth off stump sprouts insures future trees with little or no planting costs
Growing Hybrid Poplar For Biomass
More farmers are planting Hybrid poplar tree farms on fallow land to supplement their farm income. Planting Hybrid poplar is gaining traction as a biomass fuel source for ethanol production and wood burning electrical plants. A harvest cycle between 5 and 7 years creates a sustainable revenue source for the farmer and because new shoots grow from harvested stumps, there is a cost saving each cycle as well.
Hybrid Poplar Tree Farms
Although, Hybrid poplar grows sufficiently well on marginal land, it has the potential to explode with growth in ideal soil. Hybrid poplar can reach heights of 30 feet in just 5 years in good soil, a great climate and adequate rainfall. A Hybrid poplar tree farm would be extremely attractive growing on good farmland.
Step 1 – Till the site so previous plant cover is well mulched into the soil.
Step 2 – Layout a biodegradable weed barrier, preferably dark colored to attract heat from the sun - important for accelerated growth in the early years. Creating a heat sink will help young seedlings grow. Mitigating weed growth will negate competition for nutrients from weeds also helping seedlings grow.
Step 3 – Layout a drip irrigation system if rainfall is deemed to be less than adequate.
Step 4 – Plant root seedlings rather than branch stock – the trees will take to the soil faster.
Note* To maximize profits, Hybrid poplar should be planted fairly close together, about 2 to 3 feet apart - about 10,000 trees per acre
Step 5 – Harvest trees when lower trunk caliper is between 6 and 10 inches one foot from the ground.
Harvest early in the spring, just as the sap starts to run and the trees begin to bud. In about 3 weeks, 4 or 5 new shots will grow from the stump. Let them grow for the first season. Select the tallest one and cut off the rest, so the three root will put all of tits energy into growing one tree instead of 4 or 5.
Hybrid Poplar North American Growing Zones
Hybrid Poplar grows across the native range of most indigenous poplars - across Canada, the Great Lake states and a few suitable climatic zones in the west. Faster growth rates are achieved in low-lying areas.
Hybrid Poplar Tree Farm
Comments & Observations From Tree Farmer A:
I thought I would try planting some Hybrid poplar on my farm. Since I had room I thought I would plant two separate acres to test harvest volume between the two plots before I planted more land. I planted the trees pretty close together so I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 trees give or take. I let the first acre grow untouched, but I thinned every second tree from the second acre. The idea was to compare harvestable wood volume. What I found was that I made twice the money from the thinned acre and the trees where bigger and healthier too! The trees where much thinner on the first acre and many trees had developed cankers on the trunks. I also noticed that 1,000 or more trees had died off from lack of sunlight – so I guess that first acre was trying to self-thin. So from this I will definitely plant the Hybrids close together but thin them in year 4 or 5. I’m going to let them grow a little longer as well – probably 10 to 12 years. It’s also nice that I can use my profit from both acres to plant 100 acres in trees.
Invest In A Hybrid Poplar Tree Farm
Depending on market conditions, a Hybrid poplar tree farm earns gross revenue between $25,000 and $50,000 per acre in year 12 and double that in year 20. In year 8, thinned trees may be sold and/or converted into biomass wood products.