After being named a Research Fellow of the international Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Associate Professor Brian Strahm spent the first six months of 2017 in New Zealand partnering with scientists from Scion, the New Zealand Crown Research Institute for forestry, to develop ways to improve forest productivity without negative environmental impacts.

“Over the last few decades, New Zealand has seen massive changes in land use, from forests to agriculture and other efforts,” Strahm explained. “Forest products are the country’s third leading export, and they want to double the nation’s forestry productivity over the next decade. To do so, they’re looking into nutrient management, but a lot of people are worried about potential water quality problems that might result from it. We’ve been working to figure out how to add nutrients like nitrogen and achieve the maximum benefit with minimal environmental impacts.”

To explore options for fertilizing forests without harming surrounding waterways, Strahm and his colleagues developed large-scale field trials to determine the fate of applied nitrogen. “We have about 10 treatment plots across New Zealand’s North Island, where we’ll gather data over the next few years,” said Strahm, who will continue to receive and analyze samples from the treatment plots at his lab at Virginia Tech.

Strahm hopes that this project can be the start of a collaborative effort that can continue for decades. “The data we’re getting back now will help us design future trials. We’ll keep refining and trying to put the best information we can into the hands of decision-makers, whether they’re government officials or land managers,” he said. “This was a fantastic experience. I got to work with an incredibly welcoming community of scientists, and I saw the similarities and differences between their systems and ours. I think there will be a lot of opportunities for cross collaboration in the future.”

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