Young and older cones in the Vernon Seed Orchard Company orchard in Quesnel. Brian Barber, CEO of Select Seed Co. Ltd. and program manager for the Forest Genetics Council of B.C., was in Quesnel last month looking for a site for a new seed orchard and brought people to Vernon Seed Orchard Company Quesnel to show them an example of this type of orchard. Lindsay Chung photo

Select Seed Co. looking to establish new lodgepole pine seed orchard in Quesnel

Brian Barber was recently in Quesnel looking for potential sites for a 5,000-tree seed orchard

Select Seed Co. Ltd. is looking to establish a new 5,000-tree pine seed orchard in the Quesnel area and is currently on the hunt for the right piece of land.

Brian Barber, CEO of Select Seed Co. Ltd. and program manager for the Forest Genetics Council of B.C., met with the City of Quesnel and some community members last month to share information about Select Seed’s plans to establish a lodgepole pine seed orchard near Quesnel, respond to questions and solicit ideas and suggestions.

A seed orchard is plantation of selected trees managed to produce seed. The orchard produces cones and seeds from trees that are grafted from selected parents.

“The seed orchards are the actual delivery arm of the tree improvement cycle,” said Barber.

There are 96 orchards with 110,000 trees on 16 sites on the south coast and in the Interior, explained Barber, noting the only two in the north are the Vernon Seed Orchard Company in Quesnel and the Ministry Tree Improvement Station in Prince George.

Seed orchards are managed by the provincial government and private companies, and they average one to two full-time staff per site, as well as a variable number of part-time seasonal employees, explained Barber.

Pine production is a two-year crop, explained Barber.

“The cones are harvested in August of the second year,” he said. “They are picked by hand on ladders, using clippers, and the cones are stored in burlap sacs. They condition them until they are shipped to the Provincial Tree Seed Centre in Surrey, where cones and seeds are processed, registered, tested and stored.

Seeds are purchased by forest tenure holders and government, and the prices cover the seed orchard operations but not the cost of genetic research, explained Barber, noting it costs about $1 to plant and grow a seed in B.C., and as of July 2, the average seed price per tree for lodgepole pine was $0.07.

“The demand for seedlings has increased significantly because of forest fires and reforestation, and we are getting close to historic demand,” said Barber, noting that 308 million seedlings have been requested so far in 2019, and top species requested as been lodgepole pine, with 120 million seedlings requested.

Tree breeders are assessing resistance to particular pests, and seedlings are being tested to understand how far seeds can be moved from their source, explained Barber.

“In the past, it’s been considered local is better, but the climate is warming faster than the trees evolve,” he said. “We’re moving away from geographic-based planting zones to climate-based seed transfer.”

Barber says a benefit of seed orchards is being able to increase capacity for reforestation.

“It provides a secure seed supply for reforestation because trees grow fast, and they can establish them faster, reducing brushing costs,” he said. “By growing faster, bigger trees, we can increase wood quantity and value.”

Adapted trees are also more productive and resilient to insects and disease, and seedlings are better adapted to new climates, added Barber.

All this work is overseen by the Forest Genetics Council of B.C., which is made up of 14 representatives from the provincial government, private forest companies, Natural Resources Canada and universities, who are appointed by the Chief Forester, explained Barber.

“The three broad goals are to enhance the value, resilience and conservation of B.C.’s forests,” said Barber.

Seed orchards contain about 40 to 50 genetically unique parents, so they can maintain genetic diversity, explained Barber.

“The parents come from quite wide geographic areas,” he said.

Select Seed Co. was established in 1999 under the auspices of the Forest Genetics Council of B.C. with a mandate to increase orchard capacity and select seed use through the private sector. Funding was provided by Forest Renewal B.C. and later the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

“We’re mandated to produce and sell seed at competitive prices,” said Barber. “We became self-sufficient in 2013, and now the money we make supports new orchards.”

Select Seed Co. manages 13 seed orchards under contract with five partners.

“Last year was a record year for seed sales,” said Barber. “We sold $1.4 million in seed sales in 2018-19. It was a bumper crop.”

Barber says they are looking to establish a new seed orchard in the Quesnel area because the lodgepole pine orchards in the south are not producing as expected in the southern Interior. Orchards only supply 28 per cent of the 120 million pine seedlings grown in 2019, he noted.

Select Seed has been mandated to establish a new 5,000-tree seed orchard for north central B.C. near Quesnel, and Barber is looking for a site for this new orchard.

Barber says they are looking for a site that has a suitable climate, that is not surrounded by a lot of external pine to reduce the risk of pollen contamination, where the soil is well-drained and that has the suitable zoning (agriculture or forestry).

“We would prefer to have land that is clear and ready to go, with some utilities in place,” said Barber. “Irrigation is not critical. People might have property they are not actively managing. I’ve seen some desirable properties.”

Barber was also up here doing reconnaissance work in October 2018, and he says their target areas are the benches along the Fraser River north and south of Quesnel, and they are looking for a minimum of 12 hectares or 32 acres.

“We’re looking to plant 5,000 trees,” he said. “We’re looking for a longer-term contract, and we’re looking for a site we can start growing grafts in the spring of 2021. We’re not sure if we can buy the land upfront or lease the property and maybe the owner will be able to manage it.”

Moving forward, Barber says their next steps are to work on an information package and to solicit expressions of interest in the fall. This winter, they hope to be able to create a shortlist, invite bids, negotiate with candidates and complete agreements in the winter. Once they find a site, they hope to prepare the site in the summer of 2020 and be ready to plant three batches of 3,500 grafts in the spring of 2021, then plant an additional 1,500 grafts in spring 2022.

For more information, visit the Select Seed Co. Ltd. website at selectseed.ca.

READ MORE: Quesnel’s new Forestry Initiatives Program up and running


Lindsay Chung
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