The Forest Engineering Network


Technodiversity in Forestry: Diversified supply chains for forest biomass in mountain regions

Rationale: Forest management yields a whole range of products, increasingly varied as stand characteristics and silvicultural prescriptions get closer to natural models. Therefore, multifunctional mixed forests end up producing a combination of structural timber, lower value assortments and byproducts that can find an interesting outlet in a number of innovative uses. Wise selection and processing of those byproducts fuels the bioeconomy and supports the Green Deal. In particular, various classes of byproducts can be turned into fuel chips, microchips and wood mulch that substitute fuel oil, imported pellets and polluting herbicides. In turn, provisioning such products from diversified close-to-nature mountain forests require appropriate technology, which must be efficient, safe and environmentally gentle.

Lunch will be provided by a local farm, based on local specialties (homemade goat cheese, pork roast on a spit and vegetarian option)

The number of places available for the field trip is limited. Bookings will be closed once the maximum number of participants will be reached.

What to Bring: Hiking boots/shoes, hat, warm clothing, raincoat, water (additional water will be available at lunch). Helmets and high-visibility vest will be provided by the organizers.



Travelling upstream to the source of the woodchips – by R. Spinelli

This field trip emulates on a (much) smaller scale James Bruce’s epic exploration to reach the source of the Nile! Like him and his crew, we’ll start from the estuary – where the chips are used – and travel upstream to reach the centralized sorting yard where the wood is separated and processed according to quality, the landing where it gets delivered by a cable yarder and finally the forest, whence it originates….and on such an arduous journey, we’ll be sustained by a hearty meal, provided by a local small farm offering their own products…

Overview and time schedule

08:00  Depart from Florence (Please see in the bottom)

09:30 Arrival at Vannucci Piante main centre

10:30 Depart from Vannucci Piante main centre (after quick refreshment and bathroom stop)

10:45 Arrival at Vannucci Piante Nursery 300

11:30 Depart from Vannucci Piante Nursery 300

12:15 Arrival at Centralized sorting yard – Pontepetri

14:00 Depart from Centralized sorting yard – Pontepetri (after lunch and bathroom stop)

14:30 Arrival at Mountain harvesting – Macchia Antonini (yarder + processor)

16:00 Leave Mountain harvesting operation – Macchia Antonini

17:15 Arrival in Florence


Stop 1: the user – Vannucci piante

Vannucci is one of the largest and most important plant nurseries in Europe. Established in 1938 by Vannino Vannucci Sr. on a plot that measured less than a hectare, this nursery has become a global company that produces over 3000 plant varieties, for a total surface of 590 ha. Now in the capable hands of Vannino Vannucci Jr., the company remains a family-owned business, but its customers are spread over three continents, and range from the quality-minded home-owners purchasing a few ornamental plants for their gardens, to the Royal Gardeners of Buckingham Palace or of the Jordan Royal Residence.

Vannucci Piante operates under a double environmental and ethics certification scheme. That is quite important for nurseries, which are intensive operations and use significant amounts of water and chemicals. In that regard, Vannucci has dramatically reduced chemical inputs by replacing herbicides with chip mulch. Weed control is now obtained by applying a thick layer of microchips to the top of each pot, in order to build a durable and effective mechanical barrier to weed growth. With that measure alone, herbicide use has been cut by over 50%, while creating a new market for local forest companies, such as Orlandini, a leading agroforestry business just few kilometers uphill. Vannucci Piante currently uses 8000 m3 loose volume of microchips per year, but that amount is rapidly expanding, as the new weed control technique becomes generalized: microchip is far superior in environmental, social…and financial terms! 

This visit will include two stops. The first one at the main nursery and the second at the newest experimental Nursery 300 at La Ferruccia.

Main nursery

Station 1 – Potting

Most modern nurseries favor potted-plant production over bare-rooted plant production, because the latter system guarantees much better plant survival after transplanting, and because it largely extends the time window for selling and transplanting. When dealing with bare-rooted plants, transplanting and selling is limited to a specific season only, which depends on plant species and greatly complicates planning. In contrast, potted plants can be loaded, sent to the customer and inserted into a garden at any time. A great advantage, indeed. In the potting area we shall also see the microchip piles, whence microchips are collected and spread on top of the pots in order to form a mechanical barrier against weed

Station 2 – Production

Potted-plant nurseries sit on prepared soil, covered with semipermeable fabric or gravel, and the access road system further reduces the water infiltration of the once bare soil. That  increases water run-off and contributes to overloading the field drainage system in case of extreme rain events. In order to minimize flood risk, potted-plant nurseries must apply compensation measures that include the construction of surge ponds to store excess water and return it gradually to the field drainage system according to its capacity. All Vannucci Piante sites are fitted with such ponds, which also serve as water reservoirs for irrigation, thus minimizing the drain on the water table. Vannucci Piante uses state-of-the-art irrigation systems that precisely dose water output according to daily weather and plant needs – separately for each species and plant development stage. Precision management is also applied to the use of chemicals (i.e. pesticides and fertilizers)

Station 3 – Quality control and logistics

After one year in the pot, when the plant is finally self-sustaining and can be transplanted to its permanent destination, pots are sorted by quality and dispatched to the logistic centre for loading on transports and delivering to the customers. Given the multitude and variety of their customers, Vannucci Piante had to carefully design their logistic system and build an efficient infrastructure to support it.

Station 4 – Showroom

Here is where customers can see samples of the products on offer…and where we shall have a few minutes to relax and ask questions to Vannucci Piante’s Production Manager, Dr. Enzo Gramigni. Refreshments and bathrooms will also be available at this station.

Nursery 300

This is a new project launched in 2021 on a pilot site measuring 15 ha, located at La Ferruccia, just outside Pistoia. The innovation is radical (no pun intended!). Even if the new nursery is designed for potted-plant production, its surface has received minimum treatment to maximize water infiltration rate during rain events. Pots are lined on bands of permeable geotextile fabric, which only cover the area right under the potted-plant lines. Access and service roads are only metaled on the two 40 cm-wide strips corresponding to the vehicle wheel tracks. These measures maintain full soil permeability to the point where no surge ponds are necessary. And that is only the start…Plant supports are made of locally sourced chestnut posts, which receive no preservative treatment, given the high natural durability of untreated chestnut wood. Chestnut also provides the microchips used for weed control. To that purpose, a thick layer of microchips is applied to the top of each pot, constituting a durable and effective mechanical barrier to weed growth. With that measure alone, herbicide use has been cut by over 50%, while creating a new market for local forest companies, such as Orlandini, a leading agroforestry business just few kilometers uphill. Vannucci Piante currently uses 8000 m3 of microchips per year, but that amount is rapidly expanding, as the new weed control technique becomes generalized: microchip is far superior in environmental, social…and financial terms!

Between Stops - From Pistoia to Pontepetri on the Ice Route

We’ll drive on Route 66 (yes! Route 66…The Tuscan one, though…) at the bottom of the Reno Valley (Yes again! Reno = Rhein…again the Tuscan one, though…).

This is a very narrow valley, which is in the shade most of the time. For that reason, this is the area where natural ice production developed between the end of the eighteenth century and the early 1900s. Once near the settlement of Le Piastre (you’ll see the sign) is one of the many icehouses built in the valley – this one duly restored just few years ago. Its name is the Ghiacciaia della Madonnina (Our Lady’s Ice House) and it is a unique structure, in the shape of a truncated cone trunk and with a straw roofing. Here ice was stored and made ready for loading on the train that crossed the valley, for transporting to Florence and beyond. Ice was produced by damming the Reno River in order to get the water expanding in shallow layers on prepared field, where it would freeze solid. Workers would then cut out the ice blocks and move them to the icehouses.


Stop 2: sorting and processing – Orlandini

We reach the sortyard owned and managed by Orlandini Agricola Forestale, a small privately-owned forest company, who has pioneered both cable yarding and chipping. Owner Antonio Orlandini and his wife Giuliana started their business by buying a light Valentini yarder, which they operated together: Giuliana working the winch at the landing and Antonio felling and hooking trees on the cutover. They were the first users of a modern tower yarder in Tuscany, and they are still leaders in that business, now managing multiple yarders (all Valentini) with their respective crews. They have also trained and permanently hired a number of refugees in their company, showing how integration can work effectively for both sides. The Orlandini were also among the first to resort to whole-tree chipping, which has now grown into a very common business model all around Tuscany, and beyond. As competition became fiercer, Orlandini realized that once again you have to start a new game if you want to stay ahead and changed is fuel chip business into an innovative microchip business, geared to offer a new product: ecological mulch. Being the first to offer such a product, Orlandini acquired the leading customer in the Province – Vannucci Piante - and they are once again showing the way ahead!

In Pontepetri is the largest of Orlandini’s sort yards. While tops and branches are too bulky for efficient transportation and they are chipped at the forest landing whenever possible, logs are moved to the sort yard and chipped after air drying. Orlandini separates different log sorts by size and species, and they have their special recipes for mixing those woody ingredients to obtain the ideal product specifically suited to each individual user. By introducing chestnut in the mix, they increase the proportion of tannin in order to obtain better durability for the mulch. Conversely, they can reduce (or entirely remove) chestnut from the mix, if the goal is obtaining hot-burning fuel chips…and so on…

The great thing about chip mulch, is that the only specification set by the customer is that of a durable even-sized chip, with a length below 2 cm. There is no strict moisture content specification, and therefore mulch chips can be produced simply by adjusting chipper cut length to the minimum setting and by installing a 3x3 cm or 3x2 cm mesh screen. There is no need for screening the chips after chipping nor for drying them to a very low moisture content (<20%), as is the case when producing microchips for use with pellet stoves.

A chipper will also be operating at the sort yard. That is Orlandini’s own chipper, a small scale Pezzolato drum chippered powered by a versatile farm tractor. Chipping is a specialist job and Orlandini hires specialized contractors with large industrial chippers (several are available in the area) for most of their chipping. However, the small chipper is used for constrained access landings and urgent jobs, when no contractor is available.

Stop 2 – Lunch!

At this stop we shall also enjoy lunch, with the following food:

Goat Cheese selection – produced by Ninfe del Bosco (engl. Dryads or Forest Spirits), a small dairy farm owned by Diamante Santini. Located in the Pistoia hills few km from Pontepetri, the farm breeds Chamois-Coloured Goats for milk, which is processed into a variety of cheese types directly on the farm in their micro-dairy, with full respect for the animals and their reproductive seasonality. This farm does not for quantity, but quality: their production is seasonal and therefore not all product types are available at all times. Ninfe del Bosco also run a small agritourism and an educational farm, and they strongly believe in collaboration with other farms in the area, to create a sustainable farm-to-table network. You can follow the Ninfe del Bosco on the following social media channels FB: Instagram:

Roasted pork on a spit – produced by another local farm - Orto di Casaglia – owned by Mr. Raffaele Bomparola. This farm is located on the hills around Calenzano, just few kilometers away. Among its activities, the farm raises pigs from specially selected breeds (e.g. Duroc large White) and produces fresh as well as cured meat (e.g. ham. Salami etc.). They love their animals, but not quite as much as the Dryads.

Chianti wine – produced by Fattoria Betti, a farm and small-scale winery in the hills of Quarrata (not far from Vannucci Piante), who produce excellent wine, appreciated not only in the Pistoia area but also abroad. So we can guarantee good quality to both our Italian and Foreign guests!

Tuscan sourdough bread – baked at the local bakery near Piazza. Like all Tuscan bread, this loaf simply lacks salt. But it is not at all tasteless, because of its natural fragrance. In fact, lacking salt, this bread is ideal for joining with tasty and spicy foods, without interfering with their original character nor overloading the palate with too much taste. With today's focus on low-sodium nutrition and the concern about metabolic diseases, this typical Tuscan product helps to stay healthy. Furthermore. when Tuscan bread is baked in a wood-fired oven, temperature never gets as high as to diminish its many organoleptic and nutritional properties.

Water – Fresh water from the Silva Source in Pracchia, bottled and distributed all over Italy. We happen to be just few kilometers from Pracchia, so we could buy it bulk, at a discount…and certainly fresh!

Coffee – In the absence of a source of power and of a large enough espresso machine, we had to fall back on Swiss-made Nescafé Instant Coffee…but since we bought it from the local shop in Pontepetri, we may still try and include it with the zero km production…although it may sound a bit cheeky!

Additional special meals will be provided for the vegan and gluten-intolerant colleagues, and their ingredients can inspire the same confidence and poetry and those listed above – such as the Spelt from Garfagnana (the mountain region North of Lucca renowned for spelt production) in the Spelt salad that should make vegans happy.

Stop 3: Harvesting – Santini

Lamberto Santini owns and runs a small-scale logging enterprise, with two main crews. Lamberto learned yarding from Antonio, but then he added his own innovation to the new trade by introducing a processor, in order to speed up production and alleviate the burden on the chaser. After careful study, Lamberto selected the most suitable machine for the wood size and type available in the area. His light Arbro stroke processor is mounted on a small tracked excavator and can easily deal with the most branchy wood, while still being light and cheap enough to be within reach for most small-scale loggers. Its small size and light construction is not a synonym for poor durability, since the same machine has now been in operation for many years. If you give a well-designed, skillfully built machine to a professional logger, durability is not an issue.

Such an affordable machine allows a small company to spare enough capital to purchase additional equipment and increase its task-versatility. Besides his tower yarder and processor, Santini also owns forwarding trailers, spare tractors and a mobile chipper, for reaching those constrained landings that are outside the reach of a heavy industrial machine or completing those urgent jobs, when an industrial chipping contractor is not available.

The harvesting operation includes the following work steps:

  1. Motor-manual felling by chainsaw
  2. Dragging to the skyline corridor and extracting to the landing with a light tower yarder
  3. Mechanized processing with a light excavator-based processor

Yarding operations as those run by Orlandini or Santini are typical of the Tuscan mountain, where a dozen other yarding operators are also active. Those operations are quite different from the operations found in the Alps, because extraction distances are generally shorter, but tree size and removals are smaller, and the species are entirely different – being generally hardwood or young softwoods – not the large and valuable spruce trees one is yarding further North.

Operators have adapted and they have found the right equipment and methods for matching their own wood basket. Orlandini and Santini are leaders in this sector, as they pioneered yarders and processors, respectively. More contractors are following their example, to the benefit of increased financial, social and environmental sustainability in forest operations.  

Note: The afternoon programme is devoted to the Technodiversity project: through simple explanations and with the help of suitable graphs, we shall demonstrate how to apply to a real-life case (i.e. Santini’s yarding operation) the transparent, logical and straightforward schematics developed within the scope of the Technodiversity project.


Please give us your Feedback!

Today’s field trip was attended by >120 among the best Forest Engineering specialists on the globe, well over half the available pool… Never before we have brought so much brainpower to our mountains, and it may be a long time before that happens again – if ever.

While deeply aware of the great honor your presence represents for us, as an efficiency specialist I cannot miss such a golden opportunity for picking your brains…

For that reason, I would kindly ask you to give us 10 minutes of your time (OK – make it 15!) for giving us your technical feedback. I do not want to know whether you liked the sights, the meals, the people or the organization: I’ll see that clearly on your faces at the end of this day…

What I would like to get is your technical feedback on each of the three operations you visited: Vannucci, Orlandini and Santini. What you think were their strong points, their weak points, how could they be improved, what could be the alternatives, if and how any of those operations could be adapted to your own conditions, etc. Well, you are the experts, you’ll certainly have made your opinion on what you saw. Please let us know. That will be immensely useful to us. When you have the time, please send me a mail message with your feedback at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


With the support of: Eramus+ Techno Diversity; H2020 BRANCHES Project 101000375, PNRR Agritech

Acknowledgements: E. Gramigni (Vannucci Piante); A. Orlandini (Orlandini Agricola Forestale); D. Santini (Ninfe del Bosco), L. Santini (Santini Agricola Forestale)

Safety first: Be safe! …As we travel upstream to reach the source of the microchips, we must recall that Salmon is the only animal that travels upstream to its fate, and it leaves for its journey with no intention of coming back…contrary to salmon, we’d like to get back home safe and happy. Watch out! Be alert! Be safe!



Explorers like James Bruce would take forever to reach their intended destination because they had no maps nor navigators. We do and - what’s most – we cannot afford taking ages to get to our destination because the buses will leave at 08:00 sharp. 

So…rendez-vous at 08:00 at Via Elio Gabuggiani, (near Stazione Firenze Porta a Prato)