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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Fertilization in northern forests - biological, economic and environmental constraints and possibilities

Hedwall, Per-Ola; Gong, Peichen; Ingerslev, M.; Bergh, Johan


Forests of northern ecosystems respond slowly to management activities and the possibilities to increase the growth in a short-term perspective and meet swift increases in society's demand for biomass are small. An exception among the silvicultural measures is fertilization which can be applied in combination with present management systems and, almost instantly, enhances forest productivity. There may, however, be both economic and environmental constraints to large-scale applications of fertilizers in forest. Here we review the literature concerning biomass production of forests under different fertilization regimens, environmental constraints and possibilities in northern forests on mineral soils. Further on we discuss the implications of both extensive and more intensive fertilization in relation to the developing bioeconomy, which encompasses the production and conversion of renewable biological resources into food, health and industrial products and energy. Fertilization in Sweden and Finland is currently practiced by extensive fertilization regimens where nitrogen fertilizers are applied once, or up to three times, during a rotation period, mainly in mature forest. This type of fertilization gives, in most cases, a small and transient effect on the environment as well as a high rate of return to the forest owner with low-economic risk. The increase in biomass production, however, is relatively small and consequently the impact on the processing industry and the bioeconomy is limited. More intensive fertilization regimens implying intensive fertilization starting in young forests may, on the other hand, considerably increase the biomass supply and value for the industry. The economic and environmental risks of this type of fertilization may, however, be larger and more research is needed on the effects on the stand level, and especially on the landscape level, including late rotation management of the forest.


nutrient addition; fertilization; forest management; forest economics; plantation forestry

Published in

Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research
2014, Volume: 29, number: 4, pages: 301-311