Poplar, vital for building a bioeconomy in Spain

ProPopulus Team

The importance of poplar cultivation in the construction of a bioeconomy in Spain, its potential for  generating rural employment, its environmental advantages and its efficiency in terms of sustainability were some of the matters discussed at the “El Chopo” (Poplar) forest seminar, held on October 7th in Pamplona, ​​Navarra, Spain. The event was organised by the Navarra Forestry Association (FORESNA-ZURGAIA), member of the Confederation of Forestry Organizations of Spain (COSE), with the collaboration of the government of Navarra.

The conference took place amidst the planning phase of the Third Cycle of the Ebro Hydrological Plan and served as a framework for Pablo Munilla, (head of the Hydraulic Public Domain Control area at the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation (CHE)), to depict the current situation of poplar cultivation in the Ebro basin. For Munilla, these are favourable times for populiculture and he assured that the CHE “is determined to support this species and its cultivation, facilitating procedures as much as possible”.

In Spain, poplar plantations are located mainly in the region of Castilla and Leon (65%) and in the Ebro basin (20%). In Navarra there are about 2,000 hectares of poplar, which implies important economic and social advantages for the region, according to the Counsellor of Rural Development and Environment of the Government of Navarra, Itziar Gómez.

Poplar is a species with enormous environmental advantages. It works as a carbon sink and an area equivalent to the size of a football field planted with poplars absorbs the same amount of CO2 that 32 cars would produce in a year. On the other hand, it helps to purify soils and groundwater since it can absorb significant percentages of nitrates and phosphates present in the soil.

In addition, it is a profitable species that generates up to € 800 / Ha., in the best cases and it has a short rotation, since the trees reach maturity in approximately 15 years and this rapid growth makes their carbon fixation capacity greater than that of other species.

All these characteristics make poplar “a clearly adaptable and adaptive sector, which generates environmental capacities in the management of water resources. Its cultivation is an important economic sector. Currently, in a general uncertain environment, for the poplar forests the scenario is favourable, with global strategies against climate change, the promotion of biodiversity and the efficient use of natural resources and circular economy strategies,  substitution of fossil-origin raw materials, and  it encourages rural development  to fight against depopulation”, according to María Dolores Pascual, president of the CHE.

José Anastasio Fernández Yuste, professor at the University School of the Engineering and Forest Management of the Natural Environment Department in the Polytechnic University of Madrid was forceful when addressing the poplar growers, pointing out that there must be a change of paradigm: “you do not cultivate poplars, you manage socially, economically and environmentally the poplar groves,” he said.

However, the COSE’s manager, Patricia Gómez Agrela pointed out that currently “Spain and Europe have a deficit in wood and it will grow, in the current context of a great global demand for wood. In this scenario, plantations are necessary, not only to satisfy this growing demand but also to avoid indiscriminate felling of natural forests”.

Gómez Agrela added that in Spain “We have suitable soil and climate to plant poplars. € 350M / year and 11,000 jobs, with a sustainable local industry that demands poplar wood, justify making an effort. Foresters are not mere poplar growers, they are managers of biodiversity, bioeconomy and social welfare”.

In the same direction, Pedro Garnica, former president of ProPopulus and President of Garnica Plywood, indicated that “it is obvious that poplar generates employment in the rural world. The forestry sector is forced to maintain its presence alongside the resource, because the transport of raw material over long distances makes it unfeasible”.

For Pedro Garnica “poplar is the forest species with the highest commercial value in the Ebro Valley despite the minimal surface it occupies. It is a wood with high demand and prices higher than other species. Poplar wood is in high demand in Spain unlike other species. There are European funds, let’s put them in the Green Economy”.

Ignacio García, director of the Spanish Association of Plywood Board Manufacturers (AEFCON), pointed out that the Spanish industry that uses poplar wood as a raw material is currently at the forefront in its sector and consumes around one million cubic meters per year. Of this amount, more than 80% goes to the manufacture of plywood.

He indicated that in the Duero basin, the definition of Cartographic Hydraulic Public Domain has meant the incorporation of 4,300 hectares in the public domain that were not previously included. The prohibition of arboreal crops in areas of Hydraulic Public Domain stated in the current Duero Hydrological Plan means that those hectares, which represent 10% of the planted hectares, cannot continue to grow poplar groves, which will affect the availability of raw material for the industry.

He added that the reduction in the number of plantations will undoubtedly affect the supply. “We need quality wood. Increase the number of plantations, which should be replanted and not abandoned, and that the activity is not discouraged,” he requested.

Finally, Juan Miguel Villarroel, manager of FORESNA-ZURGAIA, who moderated and closed the day, warned that “the costs of abandonment, in the long run, are greater than those of the action. In our field we need solid and long-term policies, and more communication”, he demanded.

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