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Planning for the future
Like many loggers, Saskatchewan’s A & A Logging feels fortunate to have survived the recent industry downturn, and is now considering what it needs equipment-wise to move into the future.
By Tony Kryzanowski
The importance of a forestry business to a small, rather isolated Métis community like Green Lake, Saskatchewan, becomes apparent when speaking to companies like A & A Logging.
Owned by Art Laliberte and his business partner, Allan Lafond, A & A Logging was among the few logging contractors that still managed to keep an annual logging contract as the Saskatchewan forest industry was hit hard by the economic downturn. That’s because the Tolko Forest Industries oriented strandboard (OSB) plant in Meadow Lake, just over an hour southwest of Green Lake, was among the only forestry businesses in the area to continue to operate during the recent downturn.
A stump to dump contractor, A & A Logging managed to maintain its annual 120,000 cubic metre hardwood logging contract with Tolko. It also harvests incidental softwood within its cutblocks, located within about an 80 kilometre radius of Green Lake. The softwood, consisting primarily of white spruce, is delivered to the NorSask Sawmill, also located in Meadow Lake. They log 10 months a year, from June to the end of March.
Because of the employment it provides, A & A Logging is a well respected member of the Green Lake community.
“If you employ eight people from Green Lake, that’s eight families you are feeding, and that’s a lot in a small community,” says Laliberte. They also sub-contract their log haul to three independent truckers located in Green Lake.
As a further benefit to the community, A & A Logging makes an effort to place some of the forest slash along its cutblock roads so that Green Lake residents can drive in from time to time to replenish their wood boxes. Many in the community still heat their homes with wood.
Art and Allan have some important decisions to make over the next year or two, but thankfully, they are good decisions to have to make.
Should they consider buying some new equipment to replace their aging fleet, and what should be their priorities? With more log volume becoming available, should they take on more contract volume? At what point should Art, who is 63, turn over operational control of his part of the business to his son, Barlow, who is actively involved in the business as a loader operator?
Art says it is much harder to set money aside from the business these days because of the rates being offered to contractors, and with escalating fuel costs and wages, to compete with other industries. But he realizes that A & A Logging has been fortunate to be able to continue to operate during the recent industry downturn.
“If Tolko hadn’t been there, we probably would have had to shut down and sell off too,” he says. “It’s been a struggle for the last two to three years and it is slowly coming back. The money still isn’t there for the loggers. Fuel prices went sky high and the same thing with everything else.” He says it now costs $1700 to have a field mechanic from Saskatoon make the trip to service their equipment. A few years ago, it was only $1200.
Although it is tough to make a buck in the logging business these days, Art and Allan can look forward to a brighter future because the entire forest industry in Saskatchewan is in the midst of re-inventing itself. The huge Forest Management Area (FMA) west and east of Prince Albert, formerly owned by Weyerhaeuser, has been reallocated. And the Prince Albert pulp mill has new owners, Paper Excellence, who plan to restart the mill in 2014, giving area sawmills a potential market once again for their wood chips and bark.
Waiting on the pulp mill has to some extent kept the Saskatchewan industry in a holding pattern, but a few facilities such as the Edgewood sawmill in Carrot River (see story on Edgewood Forest Products on page 28), the Weyerhaeuser OSB plant in Hudson Bay and the L & M Sawmill in Glaslyn are back in production.
Art and Allan both started out in the logging industry early in life, working as chainsaw operators for other logging contractors.
“I’ve been involved in logging since I was about 17 years old and even did some horse logging in my early years in the late-1960s,” says Laliberte. “There was always logging around Green Lake.”
Eventually, they began logging with their own chainsaw and line skidder crews. Each had a contract with Weyerhaeuser to deliver 60,000 cubic metres annually. The crunch came about 10 years ago when the Saskatchewan Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) adjusted their premiums for chainsaw and line skidder crews because of the danger inherent in the work, to the point where neither Art nor Allan could afford them. Instead of shutting down, they decided to join forces, combine their contracts for a total of 120,000 cubic metres and make the move into conventional mechanical logging under the name A & A Logging.
At one point the company was harvesting 120,000 cubic metres of softwood for Weyerhaeuser and 120,000 cubic metres of hardwood for Tolko’s oriented strandboard plant in Meadow Lake. However, with Weyerhaeuser no longer operating in the Green Lake area, the company now only harvests 120,000 cubic metres of hardwood for Tolko.
About 70 per cent of their harvest is hardwood and 30 per cent softwood. All of their logs are cut-to-length but they only have three sorts at roadside. Their hardwood logs measure 16’ 4” to a minimum of 12’ to allow Tolko to maximize their fibre use. Softwood logs measure 17’ 6” as well as 8’ tops for NorSask, allowing the sawmill to manufacture 8’ and 9’ studs. Both the hardwood and softwood logs are 20” or more in diameter on average.
A & A Logging’s equipment fleet includes a six-year-old John Deere 853 feller buncher with a full tilt head. “We’ve been working in quite a bit of blowdown. The reason for the full tilt is for picking up the wood in the blowdown,” says Laliberte.
They also have a four-year-old Tigercat 870 feller buncher. Complementing the feller bunchers are two 848G John Deere skidders and one 748 John Deere skidder. All their wood is processed, and this is accomplished with a Waratah 622B processing head attached to a Komatsu 200 carrier.
A & A Logging realizes that it will eventually have to replace its equipment. From the lessons the owners have learned so far, it’s likely they will beef up their equipment fleet to deal with their fairly large and heavy wood diet.
“Most of the wood that we cut around here is pretty old and big wood, so you need heavier machinery to deal with it,” says Laliberte. “Next time we buy a machine, we need to purchase a bigger processor with a bigger head to cut the limbs off these bigger trees.”
Laliberte says they spoke to several other logging contractors before selecting their equipment, to determine what sort of performance history and long term durability each equipment brand had before making their purchasing decisions. They also kept in mind that their equipment would have to perform in an environment where the logs are generally heavier and trees more difficult to process.
In terms of equipment, the level and quality of service is key. “When you buy a machine you have to have good and reliable service,” says Laliberte. “When you are down, you have to have someone available to come down pretty much the next day. You can't be down for two weeks. These machines cost a lot of money and they have to keep working.”
“When you buy a machine you have to have good and reliable service,” says Laliberte. “When you are down, you have to have someone available to come down pretty much the next day. You can’t be down for two weeks. These machines cost a lot of money and they have to keep working.”
The terrain they work in is relatively flat but with quite a lot of clay, which is why summer logging is not as productive as winter logging since wet conditions make roads and cutblocks quite muddy.
A & A Logging provides 12 jobs to Green Lake and area residents at the height of logging operations, which is typically in winter. The crew tends to work together in one area, which is an advantage to the company because employees are very versatile and capable of operating several pieces of equipment in the company’s fleet. So by working together, employees can operate equipment where there is the greatest need.
Laliberte says he would be interested in perhaps working with others to make better use of the wood fibre left in their cutblocks and he has had a meeting with representatives from the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, who are planning to build a biomass-fueled power plant in the Meadow Lake area. They are interested in wood fibre supply from about a 160 kilometre radius of Meadow Lake, which would take in the Green Lake area.
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