By George Fullerton
Peter Archibald understands very well the challenges of operating a successful forestry contracting business. Securing a wood supply, selecting the right gear, building a highly talented crew and producing quality timber for customer mills all go toward making his operation competitive and sustainable.
Archibald’s business is based in the small community of Glenelg in Guysborough County, in the eastern end of mainland Nova Scotia, and he has recently acquired harvester head technology which is relatively new in the Canadian market. Archibald has also participated in a new harvester operator training program, and hired three graduates—and sees them becoming productive and committed operators.
Guysborough County is distinctly rural, and forestry is one of the main economic drivers. Archibald’s operation focuses on providing forest management services to private woodlot owners, delivering wood products to mills in eastern Nova Scotia, including the Port Hawkesbury Paper pulp mill, just across the Canso causeway on Cape Breton Island.
A good deal of Archibald’s life has centered on working in the woods. At age twelve, he was operating a chainsaw, working alongside family members on their woodlots.
In 1996, Archibald established himself as a forestry contractor, hiring himself out with a forwarder and chainsaw. After about four years as a solo act, he established a crew of four chainsaw operators. The contracting also expanded to include pre-commercial and commercial thinning, and for a year he also managed a 20-person planting crew.
His move into mechanized harvesting began in 2004, with a six tonne Kubota excavator equipped with an Arbo 400 stroke harvester head. Later, the Arbo head went on a Doosan carrier. Archibald then made the step to a roller head with an AFM 50 head.
“I have had a great business relationship with M-C Power Equipment, in Truro, first with the Arbo head, and later with AFM heads,” he says. “When I decided to make the move to a roller head, and they were stocking the AFM line, I decided to try out an AFM 50 head and it has worked quite well. We installed the head on a Cat 501 carrier, and it seems to be a good fit. I continue to have great service with M-C Power.”
The AFM 50 head features three feed rollers and four delimbing knives. The head is designed for commercial thinning and clearcutting applications. The AFM 50 is designed for 12-18 tonne forestry machines, or excavators up to 18 tonnes.
AFM itself is headquartered in Jyvaskyla, Finland, and manufactures a line of high-quality single-grip harvester heads, processor heads, combi heads and energy wood harvesting heads.
In 2016, Archibald was looking for a more robust head to handle hardwoods and, again, M-C Power had the solution on their floor: an AFM 75 head with top saw. The 75 is a very robust head and he matched it to a John Deere 2054 carrier.
The AFM 75 is said to be a strong, reliable and highly productive harvester head, and is suited well to 20-30 tonne excavators and heavy forestry carriers. It features four movable, and one stationary, delimbing knives and has the power to provide efficient delimbing, even on big hardwoods. The AFM 75 keeps the stem centered with three feeding rollers and has accurate diameter and length measuring. The delimbing knife geometry allows the head to work well as a harvester, as well as from buncher piles. The head has 65 centimetre cross cutting capacity and weighs in at over 1900 kilograms.
“If I have a problem, M-C Power provides excellent technical support over the phone, and we figure out the problem—and get back to work quickly,” commented Archibald.
M-C Power also has mobile service for more complicated issues. Archibald shared that M-C is also well stocked with AFM parts as well as hose supplies, bars, chains and other common needs for forestry contractors.
The increase in harvester capacity for Archibald’s operation has, in turn, required more capacity on the forwarding side. In September 2016, Archibald made a deal on a new John Deere 1510 forwarder. It’s been a good fit, he says.
“I’m well satisfied with the forwarder’s performance. It works well, and we need it to handle a good payload on long hauls.”
Archibald recognizes the necessity of making his operation as productive as possible and in particular he wants to get maximum production from his harvesters. To that end, he employs two chainsaw operators to work ahead of the harvesters in certain stand types, to cut low grade and brushy trees blocking the harvester operators’ view of the trees to be harvested.
“I need my harvesters to be as productive as possible,” he explains. “With the tree competition cut down, the operators can concentrate on harvesting crop trees and not waste time clearing. Using a harvester to clear away the low grade and non-commercial growth is non-productive for the harvester, and costly in bent bars, broken chains and the downtime required to fix them.”
The chainsaw operators work ahead of the harvesters only in certain stand types. If they are not required to work ahead, there are oversize trees to drop and sometimes they will harvest a small pocket.
Wood markets include pulpwood to Port Hawkesbury Paper (formerly Stora) and low grade and off-spec species to the Great Northern Timber chipping operation at Sheet Harbour. Their studwood is delivered to the Scotsburn Mill near Pictou, and sawlogs move to Taylor Lumber in Middle Musquidobit.
Archibald’s trucking requirements are handled by Russell McLaughlin, a lifelong neighbour and friend.
Archibald owns a Volvo tractor and float, and has considered getting a log trailer, but at present the unpredictability of wood markets has left that plan on hold.
His wood supply continues to come from private woodlots, primarily in Guysborough County, with the occasional venture to neighbouring Antigonish and Pictou counties.
“We still have lots of woodlots to harvest, but the world and the industry has changed,” he commented. “Some woodlot owners look for stumpage prices we witnessed a couple decades ago, but the world has changed—there is not the same money in the industry.”
Archibald was one of a handful of Nova Scotia harvest contractors who were participants in a new and innovative machine operator training program devised and managed by the Canadian Woodlands Forum, Bio Applied Innovation Pathways, Forest Nova Scotia, Forest Liaison, and the Nova Scotia Forest Safety Society.
The training program featured an intensive pre-assessment of trainee candidates, in-class and in-machine training, and an extended coaching period.
Archibald—like his fellow contractors involved in the training program—agreed to hire the trainees and put them to work in their harvest equipment for the coaching period. He initially agreed to hire two trainees, and ended up hiring a third.
The trainees, as well as the participating contractors, made financial commitments to the machine operator training program.
“I initially found out about the program and the opportunity to hire trainee operators through Port Hawkesbury Paper,” said Archibald. He added that it has been challenging to find quality operators in the past. “I’m very happy with the program and the quality of the trainees I’ve hired.
“The pre-assessments were a very helpful element in the program. I reviewed the assessments, which provided a good picture of the candidate, their personality and their skillset. I followed up with a personal interview before I agreed to invite the first two candidates to hire on.”
Archibald hired trainees Ashley Hooper and Adam Haliday, and later on Brandon MacLeod came on board, after the contractor who originally hired him ceased his operation.
“Each of the trainees came with a good basic operator skillset,” he says, noting the training program was essential. “I would have never been able to hire them if they had applied without having had the training course. I would not have been able to afford to train them from scratch. They would have had such low productivity as they learned to operate the machines that I could not have afforded to keep them.”
Archibald pointed out that the pre-assessment which qualified the trainees to get into the training program was—and continues to be—a valuable management tool.
He noted that he received the pre-assessments prior to selecting candidates to interview. The assessments reflected the skill and knowledge level of the candidates, and qualified them to even enter the training program. The pre-assessments provided information that allowed Archibald to select interviewees he figured would fit his particular operation.
“I continue to refer to those assessments, whenever concerns or issues arise on the job,” he says. “The assessments provide me with very good insight into their thinking and it gives me a much clearer understanding of where they are coming from, and how they see and deal with the challenges they encounter day to day. It has really made a big difference for managing my operation.”
Ashley Hooper went to work full time for Archibald once his coaching period was complete. “After two months in the seat, operating has become second nature,” says Hooper. He added that the instructors from NB Community College had excellent teaching skills, but their training machines did have a lot of downtime, which meant trainees where often gaining insight on repairing, rather than operating, equipment. Hooper said that the coaching was excellent, and certainly directed his skill development.
Archibald also realizes that the professional coaching the trainees received was significant in refining the trainees’ skill levels, and operating knowledge.
“The coaching targeted the right stuff,” he explained, pointing out that the coaches dealt individually with each trainee, working on specific elements which progressively developed their operating skills—and increased their productivity.
“I also had good interaction with the coaches. We discussed in detail the trainees’ progress and any concerns I had about how they were operating. The coaches were very responsive to my input.”
On the Cover:
Producing wood chips for manufacturing pulp is an important part of the forest industry in Canada, but producing forestry biomass for energy facilities is also of growing importance. Industry research organization FPInnovations has some solid tips on achieving the standards expected of biomass in a story on page 45 of this issue of Logging and Sawmilling Journal (Photo of B.C. Interior chipping operation by Paul MacDonald)
Keeping lumber on track
The rail system is an essential link in the supply chain for Canadian lumber producers, and industry associations are stressing that the system needs to be maintained and reviewed to get the best service—especially as the industry seeks to develop overseas markets, and get lumber to ports.
Maxing out value from logs
B.C.’s Skeena Sawmills has launched a broad-based effort to improve log utilization, and that effort includes the installation of a new small log canter line—and it’s also looking at a new log scanner, to maximize the value from each log.
New planer mill technology delivers
A new planer mill at IdaPine in Idaho is helping Evergreen Forest Products meet growing market needs—and standards for the company’s appearance grade products have been greatly enhanced by innovative Finnish scanning technology created by FinScan.
The right stuff—all the way ‘round
Nova Scotia logger Peter Archibald understands full well that he needs the right gear to deliver the right wood to the right mill, and he now has some new equipment—and some newly-trained operators—to deliver that wood.
Rolling uphill with logging changes
The B.C.-based Clusko Group is used to adapting to new environments and making changes, and the latest is a move to higher ground and steep slope equipment, with the Remote Operated Bulldozer (ROB) winch assist system.
Vancouver Island sawmiller Lawrence Wheatley has weathered two decades of the ups and downs of the sometimes unpredictable wood products market by being extremely resourceful, and having a strong focus on local customers.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Alberta Innovates, Alberta Agriculture and FPInnovations.
The Last Word
The forest industry must lead on developing a national carbon credit trading system, says Tony Kryzanowski.