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The forest products of Yugoslavia


Lately of the Forest Products Laboratory,
Princes Risborough, England

Yugoslavia has good reason to prize and be prond of her forest products. They are one of her greatest assets, both for internal consumption and export. After the ravages of World War II these products were invaluable in the rebuilding of the country, literally and directly as housing, fuel, railway sleepers and other internal assets, and also as exports to countries in great need of wood and prepared to pay for it with funds urgently wanted by Yugoslavia. Before the war, timber made up only 15 percent of the country's total exports, but in 1950 it had risen to 33 percent and in 1951 amounted to 30 percent by value. Moreover, timber and wood products were the chief item of Yugoslavia's total exports to her best customer, the United Kingdom, in the critical years 1949-1951, being 78 percent by value in 1949, 74 percent in 1950 and 66.5 percent in 1951.

Chief timbers

Yugoslavia's hardwoods have long been famous, particularly the Slavonian oak of the Danubian plain which has qualities of special value in the highest class of decorative building; the trees and logs are often of superb size and shape. Very valuable decorative veneers are sliced from it, in addition to boards, planks and parquet flooring. Yugoslav beech, too, is deservedly famous for quality and soundness, and is esteemed for the many uses to which this excellent species ends itself. Ash and walnut are other valuable woods, and poplar, growing freely and fast, is also a useful species.

The softwoods of Yugoslavia are more of a novelty in western Europe but have played a very useful part in recent years when supplies from the usual sources were not available. Silver fir (Abies alba) is the chief species and grows to a majestic size, providing wide boards of prime quality, with relatively few knots. Common spruce of good quality is another major softwood, and there is considerable pine, both of the nigra group, to which Austrian and Corsican pine belong, and of the ordinary species, sylvestris, the Scots pine or redwood of northern Europe. The growing needs of southern Europe and the Middle East, for the most part poor in conifer forests, are likely to absorb all the softwood which Yugoslavia can spare for many years to come.

Distribution of total timber production in the country

Yugoslavia is a federation of six republics which differ greatly in their topography as well as in their climate and forest resources. The following are rough figures of the current volume of timber production by each of the republics, as percentages of total production.

Percentage of total production, by volume


































Some features of the chief producing areas

The figures given above show that Bosnia and Croatia together produce about 60 percent of the total timber, and Bosnia alone produces, over 40 percent of the total softwoods. In the center and south of Bosnia there are great hitherto unworked conifer forests which are now in the process of being opened up for timber extraction. Some of these forests grow on very steep mountains and present formidable problems to logging and transport engineers. Crna Gora (Montenegro) is similar in general character but very much smaller in area.

'Croatia has a long tradition of intensive working of its hardwoods, especially the superb Slavonian oak of its north-eastern plains, while its mountainous western region holds much softwood and beech, on steep ground similar to that of Bosnia. The republic of Slovenia, in the extreme north-west of Yugoslavia, adjoining Austria, is an alpine region of great beauty. (It is apt to be confused with that part of the Danubian plain known as Slavonia, the home of the best oak in Croatia, but not a political unit.) Slovenia is second only to Bosnia in softwood production, but the average size of its trees is smaller than those of the latter's virgin forests.

The forests of Serbia and Macedonia have suffered centuries of overcutting and overgrazing under foreign rule, but they nevertheless contribute materially to Yugoslavia's total timber output, especially Serbia on account of its large area. Their future potential, under skilful tending and improvement, is great.

Developing forest roads

Yugoslavia's annual report for 1950 on its forestry and forest products, made to FAO, gives some figures of the great development of forest roads in the country. Before 1939-45, there were 1,550 miles of light railways and only 4,65 miles of truck or lorry roads in the forests. Since 1939-45, the figures are 930 miles for light railways and 2,170 miles for truck or lorry roads.

The tendency of much of the limestone terrain to form abrupt basin-like hollows or depressions favors roads rather than railways, though the latter have their particular uses. The report estimates that 2,480 miles (4,00-0 km.) of communications are still needed in the forests; and it is evident in the mountain areas, such as southern Bosnia, that there is an urgent need for skilful local development of ropeways or other economical mechanical means of handling large logs on very steep slopes. At present extraction to logging railway or truck road is mainly by dragging, by horses, tractors or winches, with some use of skidders and ropeways.

The manufacture of forest products from logs

Before World War II, the manufacture of Yugoslav forest products from logs was confined mainly to sawmilling, even where the log was processed at all and not sold in the round. Since the end of the war a great change has taken place and is continuing. This must be deemed all the more creditable when it is realised that during 1941-45 some 67 percent of the whole manufacturing power of the timber industry was gravely damaged or destroyed. Inevitably in these circumstances there has had to be improvisation, and mistakes have occurred which are now being rectified.

An exception to this general picture of conditions before 1939 was the Slavonian oak and beech forests of eastern Croatia, on the Danubian plain. In that rich and valuable area there have been for many decades several large centers of well-integrated manufacture. Such a center has usually embraced a good sawmill, using relatively slow but accurate frame-saws, a parquet flooring factory, a cooperage, a tannin factory producing oak tannin extract, and a dry distillation plant producing the usual range of useful chemicals from the oak and beech on which it operates.

In some cases seasoning kilns were used, with success; but the more leisurely pace formerly possible allowed much to be done quite satisfactorily by air seasoning. Kiln seasoning, of course, offers quicker and equally good or even better results, provided it is properly applied in kilns suited to the type of timber to be dried, controlled by competent operators.

Today, in Yugoslavia as elsewhere, great efforts are being made to extend manufacture of forest products as far as possible in the country of origin, so as to make a better profit from the log and provide more skilled employment in the producing country. The transformation needs time, both to gain experience and to train skilled labor; but the current is strong and not likely to be checked or reversed.

Numbers of new centers of integrated manufacture are being set up, with better machinery than in the old ones, and nearer to the species used in forests not hitherto worked or at least not exhausted. The new centers included furniture factories, with considerable attention to the making or use of bentwood, block-board, plywood and veneer. There is also much interest in the making of prefabricated houses. Moreover, at Rijeka (formerly Fiume), on the Adriatic, there are two factories producing excellent beech plywood for internal demand and export, with casein or synthetic resin glues, as required. One large factory in Slovenia is producing hardboard, and at least one other similar factory is under construction in Bosnia. In the important field of utilization of waste or surplus wood as fiberboard, compressed fuel or otherwise, Yugoslavia has the advice of a leading expert from Canada.1

1 He operates under the agreement between Yugoslavia and FAO providing for visits by some nine experts, of whom five are concerned with forest products, and for sending abroad some 26 Yugoslav technicians to study under FAO fellowships.

In the Slavonian oak area of Croatia there is an old and highly skilled center of sliced veneer production. In spite of its antiquated machinery, this center makes valuable veneer from the superb oak on which it operates. When better equipment becomes available, still better results can be expected, and will extend to the walnut which occurs in the country, both for Yugoslavia's own furniture factories and for export.

Of all the wood cut in 1949 only 3.6 percent was made into paper pulp or wood flour. Yugoslavia's own needs, in paper are estimated to require the raising of this figure to 20 percent, if the economics of such production justify this development, a matter complicated by many factors.

Sustained supplies of trees for sawmills and wood factories.

Sustained supplies, or sustained yield as foresters say, are as vital to a timber industry and to the maintenance of profitable exports as to the foresters responsible for efficient forest management. This question is much in the minds of the authorities in Yugoslavia. Past neglect of forestry and absence of commonsense measures over many decades, or even centuries, in some of the lands which now form Yugoslavia, cannot be put right quickly or easily. Moreover, after the war of 1939-45 it was essential to rebuild the country and set it on its feet, whatever trees had to be felled in the process. This is recognized, and great efforts are now being made to right the situation and reach a sustained yield basis.

The 1950 report to FAO already quoted gives much information on this subject. A forest inventory of 19,46-48 gave the following main results: 33,500 sq. miles (8.7 million hectares) were under forest, 33 percent of the total area of the country. Of this forest area there were 22,000 sq. miles (5.7 million hectares) under productive forest, 5,900 sq. miles (1.5 million hectares) under poor coppice, requiring rehabilitation by tending, and 5,900 sq. miles (1.5 million hectares) denuded of trees and requiring replanting or seeding. The silvicultural problem of the denuded areas is most difficult in the poor limestone or karst areas with a low uncertain rainfall, grazing pressure and other adverse factors, and the problem is receiving particular attention. The converse is true in other and more favorable areas where only protection of the abundant natural regeneration is necessary.

Better utilization can contribute greatly towards the same objective of sustained yield or continuous supplies of trees; for such utilization means less waste, ability to use a lower grade or smaller size of tree, and longer life from sleepers (ties), posts, poles and woodwork generally, by effective wood preservation.

Forest products research to promote better use of wood

Yugoslavia has long had distinguished workers in forestry and forest products, notably in her universities. Since 1945 the facilities for research in these subjects have been increasing rapidly, both at the universities and at special research institutes set up by the State. In 1949 a forest products research center or Institut du Bois was established at Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, primarily to serve that republic. It has done praiseworthy research, notably on timber grading, but perforce much of its time has been spent up to now on executive or semi-executive work for the Government of Croatia in connection with logging, sawmilling and machinery of many kinds.

A new role is now proposed for this institute, namely that it should serve as the main or only forest products research center for the whole of Yugoslavia, with branches and liaison staff in other parts of the country, as necessary. In this matter the advice of FAO has been sought and embodied in a detailed report which is now under consideration. Without anticipating that report or the decisions to be taken on it by Yugoslavia, the following brief outline may be given of some of the practical problems on which it is clear that work is necessary.

Practical problems needing solution

In kiln seasoning there is a need for training facilities for kiln operators, and for improved kiln designs. In timber mechanics and silvicultural relations (as understood in the U.S.A.) there is a long standing need for testing machines capable of giving strength data acceptable and comparable in international trade and research work. As beech is one of the country's chief hardwoods and is a very perishable species out of doors or when wet, there is vital work to be done on wood preservation; such work is one of the ways by which the existing supplies of beech can be better utilized, by increasing the useful life of the wood, whether as sleepers (ties), pitprops or building timber. In forest exploitation or logging there are urgent problems of economical extraction from steep mountains, by suitable machinery. Band saw maintenance and the greater mechanization of sawmills are important in the woodworking field, and so are the machinery and methods for bending beech, oak and ash in furniture and other products. Plywood, veneers and fiberboard are becoming increasingly important for internal needs or export, and the many existing improvements in making and using these products throughout the world require testing for their suitability in Yugoslavia.

Importance of documentation and liaison work

Finally, documentation is vital, if only to keep abreast of the great volume of research in progress in other parts of the world, and to avoid wasting time and money at Zagreb on problems already solved elsewhere. Economics and statistics too, in their proper place, are essential studies in a modern research center such as is proposed.

Experience suggests that in Yugoslavia as elsewhere nothing is more important than adequate liaison, and that this liaison should cover in particular the following major fields; liaison between research and industry, or the laboratory and the factory; between forestry and forest products, or the growing and the using of trees; between university research workers and the staff of the State research centers, such as the Institut du Bois. Finally, there must be close liaison between the country as a whole and all others in which research is in progress, by links such as are provided or encouraged by recognized international organizations.

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