Economic gains for trees grown from first generation seedlings are estimated at 15 percent to 20 percent over unimproved stands. Gains from second generation parents have nearly doubled those of the first generation parents. And recent analyses indicate that full-sibling families from the best second generation parents can produce volume gains of over 50 percent.

But Rousseau says, genetically improved seedlings from controlled pollination families have shown potential for a return of $883 per acre compared to $399 for first generation open pollinated trees and $657 per acre for second generation open pollinated trees.

“In every situation,” he says, “these pine genetics and tree improvement programs are utilizing cutting edge technology in genetics and silviculture to produce faster-growing quality timber.”

But he says, “The full genetic potential of the best genetic material can only be realized if sufficient resources are allocated to growing the trees.”

The choice of what to plant will depend on the landowner’s resources and objectives, Rousseau says, and it’s important to understand the various types of genetically-improved seedlings available and the costs involved in planting them.

Developing genetically superior seedlings is a multi-step process he says. “In essence, the process of tree improvement is straightforward: Find good parent trees, select them, bring them together for mating, test the offspring, select the best performers, and then start the process all over.”

However, this simplified process hides all of the extensive research needed to maintain viable large diverse breeding populations, wide-scale testing, development of genetic tools, and processes needed to produce the seed and seedlings for production plantings.

Genetically improved seedlings can be bred for rapid growth rates, straightness, disease resistance, cold resistance, small compact crowns, and drought tolerance. They can be first, second, or third generation open pollinated, mass control pollinated from second or third generation or selected genotypes, or varietals (which are clones derived from either somatic embryogenesis or hedging).