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of the value of planting teak at the correct
density so that growers embarking on new
plantations could establish and manage them
to achieve the best-value logs.
In 2008, ACIAR researchers established
demonstration plantations using a special
planting pattern known as a ‘Nelder wheel’. Using
this approach, teak is planted in rows along the
‘spokes’ of a wheel shape, which results in a range
of tree densities from high in the middle of the
wheel through to low on its outer circumference.
“B y monitoring the Nelder wheel trees over
five years, researchers were able to determine
the average growth of the teak at different
stocking rates—from 100 to 2,500 trees per
hectare,” Mr Bartlett says.
The research showed that the best stocking
rate for maximum tree diameter and height was
600 trees per hectare.
“ This was about a third of the number
of trees traditionally grown per hectare,”
Mr Bartlett says.
Farmer workshops at the Nelder wheel
demonstration sites were held in early 2013 to
show local growers the value of planting at the
“Being able to demonstrate the impact of
various tree densities in the one trial allows
growers to see the different teak production
results with their own eyes. And there is
nothing like personal experience to generate
Demonstration thinning trials established on
land owned by a local community leader were
also very well received with growers able to see
how thinning at the correct time stimulated the
growth of the remaining trees.
“ We found markets for the thinned trees as
poles for ecotourism huts and small logs for
furniture production, so the thinning generated
a profit as well as improving the productivity of
the remaining stand.”
A new five-year ACIAR project that began in
mid-2013 will further extend the results of the
Nelder wheel trials.
“ The first five years of the project were about
getting the science right—we needed time to
understand how density and thinning impact
teak production,” Mr Bartlett says.
“Now we will engage more villages and
farmer groups to demonstrate the Nelder wheel
results and help them market the thinned poles
and mature trees.”
Establishing teak plantations at a lower density
also gives farmers the option of growing crops
between trees to improve short-term cash flow.
Lao farmer Khamsone Phonsavanh worked alongside
ACIAR teak project staff to develop his agroforestry
system. The system involves paired rows of teak, with
banana, broom bush and some upland rice planted in the
spacing between the paired rows. Mr Phonsavanh says he
is happy with the teak trees, which are now four years old,
as he knows that they will provide him with a good return
and in the meantime he can still earn some income from
the integrated crops.
“ Traditionally the Lao farmers have planted
1,800 to 2,500 trees per hectare, which means
they can only farm the land between the trees
for three or four years before shade inhibits the
understory crops,” Mr Bartlett says.
“ This can make life difficult for farmers
who don’t have enough land to grow crops
somewhere else while their teak trees mature
to a size of high value.”
In 2013, ACIAR researchers trialled a range of
crops including maize, pigeon peas, soybeans
and cassava under the different teak spacings in
the Nelder wheel.
“ The researchers engaged the local farmers
to determine what crops they would like to
grow and then established trials of these crops
in the spokes of the Nelder wheel.”
Early results indicate the preferred crops can
all be grown very successfully at a teak stocking
rate of 600 or less per hectare.
“ We will monitor the incomes of the growers
over the life of the project to determine which
combination of crops generates the highest
The integrated crop-teak system provides a
triple benefit to farmers: the trees grow faster to
high-value size, crops can continue to be planted
between maturing trees, and non-commercial
tree thinning is no longer needed.
“Growers can be paid high prices for high-
diameter teak and every 10-centimetre increase
in diameter results in an exponential rise in log
value,” Mr Bartlett says.
But with no fully established teak furniture
industry like their Indian and Indonesian
counterparts, markets for teak in Laos remain a
“Furniture production from plantation wood
is still a work in progress—we need to better
understand the cutting and drying requirements
of plantation wood to generate a good-quality
wood product,” Mr Bartlett says.
“Export furniture markets require high-quality
wood, which the Lao landholders and processors
are not yet able to deliver, and the ACIAR team
is investigating other markets for the smaller
Suggested markets for the smaller trees
include charcoal as an energy source and veneer
wood for construction. n
aciar project: fsT/2004/057
more information: Tony bartlett, forestry research
program manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
ACIAR has a 20-year history in teak forestry research across Asia
and the Pacific and is working with Lao farmers to demonstrate the
productivity value of lower plantation densities.
small logs produced from thinning a 17-year-old
teak plantation at Ban Kok Gniew.
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