Logging and Milling Associates work hard to utilize and market trees up north

In 1989, Logging and Milling Associates, based out of Delta Junction, Alaska, started their business skidding with draft horses. Since then, their operation has grown extensively, and they now utilize some top equipment to better harvest the timber. Logging and Milling Associates began as contract loggers back in the early 80’s. The company was purchased by partners Tom Nerbonne, Jon Squires, and Brad Cox in 1989. They bought their mill in 1992, but say they didn’t get “serious” about the milling end until 1996. They now run the mill year round, maintaining a completely self-sufficient operation.                                   

In 1999, the company started building custom log homes and still sells custom cabin kits, creating yet another successful niche in their business. The owners are always trying to find new ways to diversify, and it is this willingness that helps keep their operation growing.

All the trees harvested are sold in Alaska.  

Staying In-State
We recently caught up with coowner Brad Cox and employee Jason Tate working on a 220-acre sale just outside of Delta Junction. They primarily do summer logging, stockpiling for winter months.                                   

The company’s mill is situated roughly 90 miles away from the logging site, and Brad and Jason are able to haul five to six loads per week, with just the two of them doing most of the work. They normally haul 16 foot logs, with firewood taken out separately. Everything is sold within the state of Alaska, making them an important player in Alaska commerce and keeping money circulating inside the state.

Effective Use of Horsepower
The equipment on the site is a far cry from the draft horses with which the company started. They use an ‘86 CAT Denharco processor stroke de-limber, which de-limbs, cuts to length, and stacks logs. They also have a ’98 John Deere skidder and a John Deere 973D feller buncher.                                   

According to Brad, this feller buncher is their most important piece of equipment. “It makes the biggest impact on the work load,” he says. It mechanically reads and cuts to length, and it can take a whole skidder load and put it in one bundle. With its ability to cut 100 trees per hour, it speeds things up, and makes things safer for workers. Brad says there seemed to be a decline in the feller buncher’s popularity for a period, but it’s experiencing a new rise.

Staying Safe
Safety is a big issue for Logging and Milling, mainly because their operation tends to be solitary. Jason Tate spends a lot of time working alone, and it’s important that he be able to do so without fear of injury. One piece of equipment that contributes to making the work
safer and easier is their ’92 Kenworth log truck. The truck is equipped with a Grizzly loader and can haul up to 50,000 lbs of logs or 6,000 board feet. The right kind of equipment helps make for a safer work environment. They say the equipment not only does the work of multiple people, it also keeps the operator in the cab and does the more dangerous work for them.

The two-man team is able to haul approximately 5 to 6 loads a week — primarily 16’ logs

Meeting Challenges Head On
Logging in Alaska has many positives, but many challenges as well. “Our biggest challenge up here, compared to the West coast, is that they have a complete infrastructure that provides usage for every part of the tree,” states Brad. “The coast can market very diversely, but we have to work hard to find full utilization for the trees, otherwise we end up with a lot of waste.”                                   

Jason says that equipment breakdowns can be a big problem, because you can’t easily pick up parts for repair, or have someone fix a piece of equipment. A machine breakdown can easily mean an entire day of work lost. It is important to know how to do one’s own repairs, in order to keep the operation running smoothly.

Of all the machinery, Brad says the John Deere 973 D feller buncher has the biggest impact on their work load.  

He is quick to say that the upsides in Alaska are numerous as well, including the lack of bureaucracy and the fact that the wood source is fairly inexpensive.

New Adventures
Logging and Milling has had issues dealing with excess mill waste. Brad says, “We have a boiler that burns all of our sawdust and heats the entire mill. But we still had a lot of waste that we wanted to utilize.” The solution was a pellet plant that they recently started up.                                   

Another exciting event for the company was a grant awarded to them in 2005 by the Alaska Forest Service. This grant was a cost-share program in which the Forest Service contributed up to 40 percent of improvements and upgrades to kiln drying facilities. Kiln dried lumber is an important product, and having these kilns gives Alaska mills the opportunity to compete in markets they might not otherwise stand a chance in.

Companies were also required to have invested in a kiln and planer operation before they could apply. Recipients were chosen based on their project’s impact on dried lumber product, as well as the creation of jobs and overall value added to the industry. Cox states that the grant has helped their business immensely, giving them the opportunity for continued growth. The ability of Logging and Milling Associates to seek out new opportunities, as well as their desire to diversify, has brought them success in the industry, and the future appears to bode well. The days of draft horses might be long gone, but their dedication and work ethic are timeless.

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