Demographic projections for the end of the century say that our forests – a truly varied and productive living environment – can continue to satisfy human needs in terms of food, medicinal plants and firewood. Focusing on research and development as well as on technological innovations to develop new products, processes and markets, the sector is expected to be able to fulfil this vital objective.
Portrait of the wood industry
Well known for the immensity of its forests, Canada has 347 million hectares of forest land, over 75% of which belongs to the provincial sector. In 2017 the sector’s revenues amounted to nearly $70 billion and its gross domestic product is close to $25 billion, or 1.6% of total GDP. The fourth largest exporter of forest products, Canada supplies the United States, China and Japan, these three countries representing close to 90% of its forest product exports. In terms of jobs, close to 210,000 people work directly in the forest industry, 1.1% of total employment. Almost 25% of women (17% of the sector’s workforce) are involved in forestry (site reconnaissance, forest exploitation, sawmills) and 75% in manufacturing wood products and in pulp and paper.
From the quality of seedlings…
Out of the 550 million seedlings planted each year in Canada (55% spruce, 35% pine and 10% fir), most come from genetic improvement programs, mainly to resist insects (poplars, tropical leaves), drought, herbicides or cold (eucalyptus). It is in this context that biotechnology, which works on the quality and resistance of species, uses various techniques such as molecular markers, which allow the study of changes in cellular molecules (proteins, DNA) or genetic engineering, by inserting or modifying genes. However, genetic modification of trees or biological control agents can be detrimental, since the altered tree can transmit the modified genes to surrounding organisms, behave as a weed and become invasive, or alter interactions with the ecosystem.
… to the diversity of final products
Innovations in the wood sector mainly concern bioproducts, which allow the wood sector to diversify by offering new products and new market opportunities, while other forest products (solid wood products, wood pulp and paper products) have been declining for several years. Research and development activities as well as the use of new technologies that allow a wide range of innovative and sustainable products to be put on the market in the field of bioenergy (solid biomass to generate heat and energy), biomaterials (bioplastics, biofoams or bioelastomers, biocomposites) or biochemicals for biocosmetic activities (soaps, creams, lotions), pharmaceuticals (antibodies, vaccines) or industrial products (paints, lubricants, solvents, etc.). As Pierre Lapointe, President and CEO of FPInnovations, points out, “wood fibre can be quickly converted into a variety of high-value products such as biofuels to heat our home or power our vehicles and biochemicals to make cosmetics, solvents, food additives or renewable plastics.”