Sunday, May 17, 2009

When more is less

During the week one of my meetings was with the manager of a Paulownia plantation.

Paulownia originated in China, and was naturalised in Japan centuries ago. It is widely used for the building of furniture and fine cabinet-making, especially in the marine industries (the timber at its best is straight-grained, strong and very light).
As the 79-year-old manager of the plantation drove me around, he explained some of the lessons they'd learned along the way.
One of the main ones was: don't plant the trees too close together.
It would be easy to think that jamming as many trees as possible onto the site would make the exercise more profitable. But it's not so.
When the trees are too close together two things happen. Firstly, there is competition in the canopy as the trees compete for light. And as a result, the trees end up with winding, bendy trunks (which translates into shortly harvested lengths, and less straight grain).
Secondly, the trees don't grow as big. In fact, the final difference in terms of timber yield would be over 100% - the big difference being in the thickness of the trunks.
Sometimes less is more.

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