July August 2005 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Alberta logger Brian
Peterson has successfully
exported the Canadian
logging model to
Louisiana, and gained a
unique perspective on
how the Southern US
By Tony Kryzanowski
It’s a long way from the frozen backwoods of northern Alberta to the steamy bayous of Louisiana, but that’s where Alberta logger Brian Peterson has expanded his operations. Peterson partnered with Perforex Consulting and the Roy O Martin Lumber Co (ROM) in a joint venture called Perforex Forest Services, and began operations in this Southern state in early 2003.
The logging company contracts its services to ROM. Based in Alexandria, Louisiana, ROM has been in business since 1923, and produces hardwood lumber, oriented strand board, pine plywood, and treated poles. It also owns about half-a-million acres of prime southern yellow pine and hardwoods throughout Louisiana, and purchases timber put on the market by other private landowners.
What Peterson has done is essentially export certain aspects of the Canadian approach to logging into this area, such as operating around the clock. “I think Canadian logging is substantially more effective for many reasons,” says Peterson, who also owns Vidar Forest Technologies, of Grande Prairie, Alberta.“It’s not just one thing or one system. It’s things like forest company business practices and mechanical support systems. There are many things that are different in the Southern US, and I think, less effective.” Initially, Perforex Consulting was the link between Vidar Forest Technologies and ROM, as it was doing work for both companies. When Peterson expressed an interest in expanding into the southeastern US, discussions began with ROM, which was looking to improve its forestry operations. “I felt it was the best area of opportunity because the Southern US consists of a huge forested area serving a huge market,” says Peterson. “It was also in great need of improvements to its harvesting techniques and systems.”
Over the years, Vidar has diversified its services to include contract layout work for sawmills involving Global Positioning Systems (GPS), conducted mapping and cut block layouts, site prep and planting, as well as private woodlot management. That’s in addition to operating a logging business serving both the forest and oilfield industries in the Grande Prairie area. Peterson has also traveled extensively and has evaluated harvesting methods used in various other parts of the world.
There is definitely an opportunity for other Canadian loggers to follow his lead, Peterson adds. However, there are significant hurdles to overcome to establish a branch operation in the Southern US. He noted two in particular. “If you want to import your own people, that’s fairly complex,” he says. Five Vidar employees worked as trainers with Perforex Forest Services to familiarize local employees with Vidar’s harvesting methods.
And the level of mechanical support from the local equipment dealership was also less than what Peterson received in Canada, because it is difficult to find qualified mechanics. As far as he could tell, the American South has no apprenticeship program, meaning that there is no opportunity for local people to receive the same level of training as currently exists in Canada. “It isn’t that the people aren’t trying hard,” says Peterson. “We just have a far better training system.”
After working for two years in the US South, Peterson says he has really come to appreciate aspects of Canadian logging that he took for granted, like the apprenticeship program, dealer support, and the Canadian work ethic.
Once the joint venture was established in 2003, Perforex Forest Services went out and purchased a brand new fleet of equipment.
The company selected John Deere as its supplier because of the positive experience it had with that equipment line in Canada. However, providing around-theclock service support has been quite a challenge for the local dealership.
It has recognized that it needs to improve its mechanical support and is developing people to meet the needs of customers like Perforex.
Therefore, Peterson suggests that any Canadian logging companies looking to expand into the Southern US hire or import employees with extensive mechanical knowledge and the ability to keep equipment working, while ensuring that local dealerships have an understanding, ability, and desire to deliver the type of service support needed to keep a 24-hour business operating.
The company’s fleet consists of a John Deere 853G tracked feller buncher, a rubber-tired John Deere feller buncher, two John Deere 853G carriers with Waratah HTH 624 processing heads, two John Deere 1710 with bogie tracks forwarders, a John Deere 2510 butt ’n top loader, and 15 logging trucks.
The trucks are equipped with central tire inflation systems so that drivers can deflate the tires in the cutblock for better traction and reduced ground damage, and re-inflate the tires once they reach the pavement.
Peterson says one of the benefits of working in Louisiana is how easy it is to access paved roads. Unlike Canada, where road building and long hauls on bush roads are often a fact of life, he says it is rare that a harvesting operation in Louisiana is more than 1.5 kilometres from a paved road.
Although the terrain is level, rain is a major issue at certain times of the year, which is another reason why central tire inflation systems on the logging trucks is so important. The harvesting equipment also needs to be fitted with tires that promote maximum flotation and traction since the water table is so close to the surface. While the weather is quite temperate during the winter months, it is not uncommon to receive 10 to 15 centimetres of rain—all of it at once. It tends to dry quite quickly, however, because the weather is hot. Usually a heavy rain will shut down operations for a few days. Hurricanes are another matter. They can dump anywhere from 35 to 50 centimetres of rain, shutting down logging operations for a couple of weeks.
Perforex Forest Services primarily harvests southern yellow pine measuring about 45 centimetres in diameter at the breast. There is also a considerable amount of incidental hardwood like hickory, ash, elm, oak and cypress. The company operates a cut-to-length system, which partially explains why a lot of operator training was required. It requires a high degree of attention to maintaining consistent log lengths and sorting the logs into the right production streams.
Having ROM as a partner has contributed greatly to their successful expansion into the Southern US, says Peterson. He says ROM executives Johnny and Roy Martin have shown a strong commitment to making changes to their business practices.
Prior to the launch of this joint venture, ROM was already demonstrating its leadership in the southern forest community, having pursued and achieved certification on its forestlands.
Despite the fact that the forest resource in Louisiana is harvested primarily from private land, Perforex Forest Services is operating to the same environmental standards as Vidar practises on public lands in Canada.
“I don’t think we would have been as successful if we were working with one of the major forest companies down here, and if it was anyone except top decision makers in the company,” says Peterson, even though hundreds of high ranking executives from other large southern forestry companies have toured Perforex operations and offered them a lot more work.
“There are lot of things that are holding southern harvesting methods from developing,” he adds, “and it starts with the forestry companies themselves. It’s their business practices. Making a change takes an effort, and Johnny and Roy Martin have had the guts and the energy to make changes.”
When asked what sort of local reaction he has gotten, considering he is providing his services in an area that is largely responsible for the lobby promoting a tariff on Canadian softwood lumber, Peterson says other local loggers have been very cooperative, although no one else has adopted his company’s round-the-clock logging method.
In addition to purchasing a new equipment fleet, the company also hired an entirely new crew, making it clear to those applying for jobs that it was the company’s intention to operate 24 hours a day. Peterson acknowledges that it took some time to find the right people willing to work to that schedule, but the company eventually got people for its crews.
Perforex Forest Services plans to have six crews working 12-hour shifts, with each crew having its own foreman.
Wages for a comparable operator are lower in the Southern US versus Canada. However, the cost of living in the South is considerably lower, and there are fewer tax deductions on pay cheques.
Working in the South has given Peterson a unique perspective on the tariff the United States has placed on Canadian softwood lumber.
“As far as the softwood lumber tariff goes, I see it as a subsidy,” says Peterson.“In the short term, the American companies have subsidized themselves, but in the long term, they’ve created a more efficient competitor.” He adds that American companies will eventually be forced to compete, and what they’ll find is a leaner, meaner competitor because of the hard decisions that forestry companies in Canada have had to make to remain competitive, despite the 21 per cent tariff.
Peterson says expansion to the Southern US has definitely been worthwhile. Another fringe benefit is undoubtedly having a legitimate reason to take a business trip to Louisiana just about the time when the weather hits minus 40 degrees Celsius in Grande Prairie.
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