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Producing horticultural potting substrate from forest biomass

Please give us a letter of support!

Plumas Wood Fiber needs your help! We are in the process of securing funding for the project from grants and lenders, and need letters of support from the horticultural industry. If you would like to see wood fiber substrate produced on the West Coast as a lower  cost quality potting substrate, please consider sending us a letter. Click below to begin.

Bringing forest to farm

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Plumas Wood Fiber Mission

The horticultural industry needs a steady supply of sustainable, quality substrates at reasonable cost to fill those pots, bags of potting mix and vertical farming installations. Peat moss is an ideal substrate, but supply has not been reliable, cost has been erratic, and its carbon footprint rather large.

Horticultural wood fiber is part of the solution. Engineered wood fiber has the basic aeration and hydration qualities needed in container growing situations. Proven for decades in Europe and elsewhere, wood fiber is part of the future of horticulture. 

Plumas Wood Fiber brings quality engineered wood fiber substrate to California to supply the Western US hort industry with what is needed without the transport costs of materials from 1000s of miles away. Engineered wood fiber has a low, or negative, carbon footprint, comes from needed forest management projects, and provides a local, steady supply to the hort industry. Win-win-win!

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What is engineered horticultural wood fiber?

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Beginning in France in 1980, experimentation with specially processed wood fibers was begun to try to find a replacement or supplement for peat moss. Progress has been steady and now there are a dozen or more companies in Europe and elsewhere producing the material for their local markets. Various processes are used to defiber, or defibrillate, the wood chips to result in a spongy material half way between a cotton ball and steel wool. It's the long fibers that give the material bulk, or loft, which makes for drainage and aeration in a container environment.

The process involves expensive machinery and a dedicated production facility to produce the material at economy of scale, and requires that a quality feedstock be readily available of coniferous wood chips to process into fiber. Conifers work best; hardwoods generally have too many phytotoxins in them that will inhibit plant growth. Properly processed conifer fiber provides a relatively innocuous, inert substrate environment with plenty of air and water to promote active root growth.

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Where does the wood fiber come from?

Plumas Wood Fiber gets its conifer wood chip feedstock from forest management projects in the mountains of Northern California in and around Plumas County. You have probably heard of the destructive wildfires in California forests, which result from a buildup of biomass in the forests since we initiated fire suppression in the forests 100 years ago. That fire suppression came with the best of intentions, but resulted in disturbing the natural fire ecology of western forests, which kept the forests clean of excess biomass with fires every 10-15 years. But fire suppression let that biomass accumulate, now when fire comes through the forest it burns with devastating intensity because of the excess of biomass fuels. It's an unnatural condition, with disastrous results.

But, we have a solution, which is to thin out the forest and reduce all that biomass. Problem is- what to do with all that material? We need a market for the biomass to fund its removal from the forest. The Europeans gave us the way- convert that biomass into potting substrate and use it to grow tomatoes and marigolds (and so much more). It's a win-win. 

But is it sustainable?

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It's hard to imagine a day when the forests will be so well managed that an excess of biomass is no longer present and needs to be removed, but perhaps that day will come. Until then, there will be a ready supply of forest biomass to use for horticulture and other purposes. It literally grows on trees.

Every cubic foot of wood fiber shipped to the horticulture industry is sequestered carbon that will be eventually placed in the earth to gradually biodegrade over time. It won't burn in a forest fire or other forest management burning projects or in an electrical generation plant. Though all of those can be considered part of the natural carbon cycle, they still put the carbon back in the air quickly. Wood fiber sequesters carbon for a long time. 

Peat moss harvesting has a high carbon footprint, as does shipping the material 2,000 miles from Hudson Bay to California. Producing substrate here in California means less carbon footprint due to transportation, and with a process that does not have a high carbon footprint.

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