Created in 1998, the Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center is developing several varieties of trees under the Greatwoods™ name. Greatwoods varieties include black cherry, black walnut, red oak and white oak that have been developed by selective breeding. The center has a staff of 60, including 25 Purdue graduate students.
Charles H. Michler, HTIRC director and a Purdue adjunct professor of forestry, and his colleagues breed trees for specific traits to increase planting and production in Indiana. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture reports on its website that hardwood products have a state economic impact of more than a $16 billion annually, supporting 35,000 jobs in the industry and more than 80,000 others in economic sectors that support the industry.
"Production has to increase to keep up with the industry," Michler says. "Urbanization and the price of land and crops are forcing farmers to grow more trees with less land. The Greatwoods program was developed to address this issue of increasing hardwood production."
Greatwoods trees grow faster than wild trees, allowing for more production. Greatwoods grow six-tenths of an inch in diameter a year while wild trees grow about a quarter inch over the same time. They also grow 2 percent taller a year than wild trees. Greatwoods also are bred for a reduced number of knots and an improved taper, which encourages consistent volume of growth to the top.
"Like wild trees, Greatwoods grow exponentially in value when on the stump, and producers can wait for the best prices before harvesting," Michler says.
Michler said Greatwoods can produce veneer, which is free of knots and worth more than lumber. He said a board foot of lumber, 1 foot long by 1 foot wide by 1 inch thick, sells for 25 cents. A veneer sheet that measures 1 foot long by 1 foot wide by a 32nd of an inch thick sells for $4-$8.
"Hardwoods are sold on quality. They aren't a commodity like pine that is sold by the pound," he said. "The price range depends on the quality of the wood, and we're doing research to produce the highest quality."
The HTIRC also is developing Greatwoods trees that show improved disease resistance over wild trees. Michler and his colleagues have developed some individual butternut trees that are resistant to butternut canker; they also are close to developing American chestnut trees that are resistant to chestnut blight.
The HTIRC has started a tropical hardwood center in Hawaii to improve the acacia koa, which is the world's most valuable wood and is important to Hawaiian culture.
"There had been a lot of production of sugar cane, pineapple and cattle in Hawaii in the past, but almost all of that is gone," Michler says. "Now there is vacant land that used to be acacia koa forests, which the state would like to replenish. Sen. Richard Lugar and Sen. Daniel Inouye have worked together to create the Tropical Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center, and there are Purdue graduate students working on projects there."
Michler says improved hardwood production benefits private farm owners, their families and people who work in the forest products manufacturing industry.
"There is a lot of secondary production done with hardwoods in the state," he says. "We have a very viable resource that creates literally and figuratively some of the greenest products around."
The trademarked Greatwoods varieties of hardwood trees and their seeds are available for licensing through Jon Gortat, project manager in the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, at 765-588-3485, firstname.lastname@example.org