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July August 2004

CONTRACTOR PROFILE2

WINNING formula

Masters Forestry, the CWF Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year for the Atlantic Region, has a winning formula with its strong emphasis on a team effort, good training and equipment-tracking technology.

By George Fullerton

Mike Masters (right) talks over harvesting plans with Timberjack 608 buncher operator Steven Oickle. “My second business principle after ‘team effort’ is continuing education and training for all employees,” says Masters.

Earlier this year, Masters Forestry Limited of Oxford, Nova Scotia took home the big Peavey, the distinctive logging prize awarded by the Canadian Woodlands Forum (CWF) to the Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year for the Atlantic Region. Owner and company president Mike Masters was on hand at the CWF spring meeting in Moncton, New Brunswick, to accept the award. “Although the company carries my name, this is most definitely a team effort,” he said. “I have a group of talented people working with me, and it is to their credit that we were recognized as the Outstanding Logging Contractor.” Masters’ contracting career began in 1989, working as a scarification contractor with a cable skidder in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.

His forestry career actually started several years earlier when he worked as a Forest Technician with Dead River Limited and J D Irving Ltd (in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). As silviculture programs declined in the 1990s, Masters moved to harvesting, hiring trail cutters and working exclusively with private woodlot clients. He soon purchased a Timberjack 230 forwarder to handle his production to roadside. “In 1993, I established River Phillip Contracting when we purchased a self-loading tandem truck. We were having a tough time marketing softwood pulpwood locally because of oversupply, and I got a contract to load rail cars for the Champion mill at Costigan, Maine,” explains Masters.

By 1994, River Phillip had expanded to tractor-trailers and began trucking wood through to Costigan. “We were among the very first Nova Scotia companies to truck pulpwood and studwood directly to Costigan,” says Masters. River Phillip currently trucks to mills in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and their fleet consists of a 1999 Mack, a 2000 Freightliner, a 2004 Kenworth, four Trac Log trailers (with Rotobec and Prentice centre mount loaders), a Superior Log trailer and a Trail King float. In 1996, Masters purchased his first harvester: a Link-Belt 2700 with a Fabtek harvesting head. The harvesting fleet currently consists of three Timberjack 608 feller bunchers, a Timberjack 610 forwarder and a 16-tonne Rottne forwarder. In addition to service trailers, the fleet is rounded out with a Link-Belt excavator and a Cat D-6 dozer for Masters’ road building needs and for outside contract work.

Their area of operation is Cumberland County in northern Nova Scotia, between the New Brunswick border and the outskirts of Truro, with more than 90 per cent of the work coming from private woodlots. “We do some small contracts for MacTara and J D Irving if they happen to have a small job in the immediate area of where we are operating. Most of our work consists of purchasing stumpage from private woodlot owners, but we also purchase woodlots and manage the land for long-term wood production.” Masters says that the region’s woodlots have a long history (200 years plus) of high grade harvesting practices. This has left woodlots in a state that—in the majority of cases—leaves clearcut and working with regeneration or clearcut and planting as the best silviculture options. The general exception is tolerant hardwood stands, where the quality is often adequate enough to allow selection harvesting.

The area where Masters operates is bordered on the southwest by the Bay of Fundy and on the northeast by the Northumberland Strait. A combination of steep terrain, moist climate and shallow rooting characteristics—and the occasional fierce wind incidents—makes wind throw in thinned stands a real cause for concern. The forestry staff includes forest technician Greg Bushen who, along with Masters, handles stumpage purchasing, management planning and follow-up silviculture. River Philip Contracting Limited is a registered buyer, and as such is required to participate in the provincial silviculture program. A silviculture levy check-off is deducted on all wood harvested in Nova Scotia. Registered Buyers have three options to participate in the program: submit check-off funds to the provincial pool; carry out the silviculture work; or hire silviculture contractors to carry out the work on the owner’s land. Masters currently opts for running a four-man pre-commercial thinning crew and contracting planting to Scott and Stewart Nursery in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Masters Forestry is well equipped, and well skilled, to handle prescribed commercial thinning or over-story harvesting. The key man on the operations side is foreman Gene Wilson. Wilson’s challenges include ensuring that the three harvesters and two forwarders continue to operate efficiently and safely, and in accordance with environmental regulations. He also oversees trucking and road building on operations. In addition to supervisor work, Wilson checks production quality and helps out with training new operators. “Gene is very important to the overall operation,” says Masters. “He can operate any of the equipment if someone calls in sick or needs part of a day off for an appointment. He is also a good mechanic and is excellent at trouble-shooting any equipment, including harvester computers. I have seen him work operators through the different computer screens over the radio, from his truck.”

Masters employs one chainsaw operator to take care of the large, hard to handle and limby trees. If there is a lack of big wood, the chainsaw operator will work ahead of the harvesters cutting underbrush, which allows the harvesters to spend their time processing timber, rather than clearing undergrowth. “My second business principle after ‘team effort’ is continuing education and training for all employees,” says Masters. Each employee has a file, detailing their safety training and certification. “Every year in the spring we go through the files to determine who needs to be re-certified in first aid, WHMIS and the like, and we arrange for the necessary training sessions. I also look at training opportunities that go beyond work and safety training. “We have offered training for engine oil analysis, ergonomics, ATV safety, nutrition, and more. Although they are not immediately work related, they provide a significant continual learning experience which workers value.”

Office manager Tracy Black is another of the key members of the Masters Forestry team. “She does an excellent job of managing the business end of things. If I am away from the business for a few days, I can rely on her to make the correct decisions if they have to be made right away.” In addition to payroll, records and remittances, Black also processes data on all the individual pieces of equipment. All machines are tracked through daily operator reports and entered in a Simply Accounting program. A variety of information is gathered for each machine including parts required, service time and supplies, and fuel consumed. In order to accurately track and analyze fuel consumption, each machine is assigned an individual fuel tank on each job.

Two harvesters are currently equipped with data loggers in order to map productive time and utilization. Each harvester generates a computer print-out on individual shift production, and forwarder production is compiled daily by the operators. Trucks turn in weekly reports every Monday so that mills can be invoiced and hired trucks paid. With details on each individual piece of equipment, Masters Forestry can analyze the information to accurately determine specific machine performance, or analyze if a particular machine, or operator, is having excessive problems or breakdowns. “We also use Excel spreadsheets a lot to analyze equipment or strategies, in particular when we look at a new piece of equipment,” says Black. “We can quickly determine the production break-even point that a machine requires to pay for itself. “The information is quick to access and we know what things are costing. It allows us to run a ‘what if’ analysis on just about any change we want to consider, from shift schedules to a new machine.”

Black adds that having solid information close at hand means they have an excellent tool when assessing a sales pitch on new equipment. Salesmen, she points out, always have nice brochures that contain specs that often seem like they are generated in better than average working conditions. “Good data has a way of keeping everyone very honest when the sales pitch is on,” she says. The company has been a member of the Nova Scotia Forest Safety Society (FSS), and Masters has served on their executive. The society’s mandate is to provide worker training to reduce accidents. Masters Forestry originally maintained a worker health, safety and training resource binder for employees, one of their own design. But as a member of the society, they are subject to annual audit to FSS standards.

So rather than maintain two separate health and safety resources, Masters Forestry adopted the FSS system as the basis of their program and added in additional information. “It made the Forest Safety Society audit simpler,” says Masters. “Our manual meets all FSS requirements and also includes our own particular information that we want our workers to have access to.” This year, they scored 98 per cent on their audit and to celebrate the achievement everyone got a new pair of work boots. “When our team has an achievement, I think it’s important that we share it,” explains Masters. “A few years ago, I bought everyone a jacket as a Christmas bonus. Those jackets were worn as a proud badge marking effort and accomplishment. “That was a few years ago, and some of those jackets are looking pretty tired and tattered. Winning the Outstanding Logging Contractor award is a real good excuse to get the team a brand new coat.”

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