Comparison of Timber Extraction Productivity between Winch and Grapple Skidding: A Case Study in Southern Italian Forests
Forests in southern Italy are mainly located in mountainous areas, where ground-based extraction is still the most common harvesting technique. In particular, 60% of southern Italy’s forests are on slopes with an angle of inclination between 20–60%. The low level of mechanization in forest operations is due to the difficult site conditions, as well as the small-scale characteristics of both the forest owners and the harvesting contractors. The most common work method uses chainsaws to fell the trees, and animals or farm tractors equipped with winches for bunching and extraction. This study assesses the productivity and cost effectiveness of extraction with a purpose-built John Deere 548H skidder, including a comparison of winch and grapple configurations. The results show that the productivity of skidding depends on distance as well as the condition of the skid trail. The number of trees per cycle and volume of each load also had a clear effect. While large purpose-built skidders represent a significant investment, this study demonstrates that the productivity is very high compared to traditional extraction methods and the resulting extraction costs are very competitive. As such, this study indicates that, over time, southern Italian harvesting operations should invest in purpose-built harvesting systems.