By George Fullerton
This past April, the Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year Award was presented to Darrin Carter at the Canadian Woodlands Forum (CWF) spring meeting by CWF executive director Peter Robichaud—and it was truly a family affair. Darrin received the award along with his sons, Justin and Cody, who now work in the family business and are in the process of taking on an ownership stake —and increased responsibility—in the operations.
Darrin, who is in his mid-50s, says he is not “completely retiring” but rather stepping back from management responsibilities. He will remain involved and available for consultation—and be an extra set of hands when help is required.
Darrin has been at it for quite a while. At the age of 16, he began working at harvesting on his father’s trail cutting operation around their home base near Amherst, Nova Scotia. The senior Carter worked as a stump-to-roadside contractor for Scott Paper, which owned the kraft pulp mill near Pictou, Nova Scotia.
When he was 20, Darrin stepped out and bought his own forwarder, hired a chainsaw crew and became a contractor himself for Scott Paper.
Three years later, in 1988, he bought a Koehring 618 feller buncher, and went to work for a larger contractor. Darrin’s first experience with cut-to-length harvesting was helping out his father, who had purchased one of the very first double-grip Rottne harvesters to go to work in the Maritime Provinces.
In the mid-1990s, Darrin made the step to at-the-stump processing with the purchase of a Hornet processor to follow his buncher, and a 16-tonne Rottne forwarder rounded out the team soon after.
“We grew the operation slowly,” Darrin explained. “I would keep my eye out for deals on equipment and built it up that way. We added a processor, which allowed us to process more than the buncher was producing, so we added another buncher. And then there was too much wood on the ground, so we added more forwarder capacity, and so on.”
The current operation consists of 10 harvesting pieces, in addition to 11 pick-up trucks, service trucks and trailers. The harvest operations are mainly for Northern Pulp industrial freehold and Crown lands, and they also operate some private woodlot stumpage.
The Carter’s 10 forestry pieces: two Tigercat bunchers, five Tigercat harvester/processors (with three Hornet processors, a LogMax and a SP single grip) and three Rottne 18 tonne forwarders.
The Carters employ about eighteen people. In addition to operators, one employee works in the shop located near Darrin’s home. Operators work ten-hour shifts. The early shift runs from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the later shift runs from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“We are fortunate to have a well-trained, competent and dedicated crew of operators,” says Darrin.
Darrin got his first Tigercat tracked carrier around 2000, and has since switched the buncher and processor fleet completely to Tigercat.
“Originally, Strongco was the Tigercat dealer and more recently Wajax in Moncton is our Tigercat service and parts provider,” he says. “Our sales rep is based in Nova Scotia, but we use their Moncton shop for parts because it handy to our base.
“The Tigercat equipment have proven to be reliable and high performance machines,” he noted. “We believe tracks are best for the environment we work in. We have lots of steep ground to contend with, and the tracks provide stability and great traction for climbing.
“We also have a long and positive relationship with Rottne and their staff at the Moncton shop,” he added. “When we began looking for single grip harvesting heads, it was practical for us to have a serious look at SP heads which Rottne Canada handle.
“We tried them out and they have worked well for us. At present, we operate with one SP and one LogMax head and we will soon have two more SP heads on our Tigercats, replacing the older Target/Hornet processors.”
In the past year, Carter has hired on new talent to handle some of the office administration and safety program management and administration.
“Since we were married, my wife Renee has handled the bulk of the office administration including payroll, managing inventories and such. In the past year, we hired Julia MacMillan to handle office administration and to manage our safety program, and Julia has been a positive addition to our business. Over the years, the requirement for safety program administration has become onerous, and Julia has a very good grasp of what is required—and her forestry experience allows her to communicate effectively with all our employees.”
Through the years, Darrin Carter Logging Ltd has been the recipient of numerous safety and quality/production awards.
The Carter’s contract primarily for Northern Pulp, a Paper Excellence company, which owns a kraft pulp mill outside Pictou, Nova Scotia. While softwood pulpwood is directed to Northern Pulp, sawlog material is directed as studwood to Sproule Lumber and Scotsburn Lumber.
Softwood logs generally go to Elmsdale Lumber and hardwood logs go to Groupe Savoie, and low-grade hardwood is directed to Great Northern Timber, which operates a wood chip export terminal in Sheet Harbour and a pellet plant in Musquodoboit, Nova Scotia. The Carter’s production in 2018 was 140,000 tonnes.
While Darrin Carter Logging is making investments in equipment and making management changes, all is not secure in the Nova Scotia forest industry.
The Northern Pulp mill opened as Scott Paper in 1967 at Abercrombie Point, Pictou County, and is currently owned by Paper Excellence, producing some 228,000 tonnes of kraft pulp annually. While the current wastewater treatment system is scheduled to be closed in January 2020, there is no approved plan for a replacement system. A proposal to discharge treated effluent directly into the Northumberland Strait has generated fierce opposition in both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. With no firm plan for wastewater treatment, the future operation of the mill seems to be uncertain.
As a consequence of the questions around the future operation of the mill, Darrin— along with a number of land owners and contractors—has had meetings with the Nova Scotia Premier and other government officials, to point out the significance of the mill as an economic anchor for the province, as well as for mills and wood producers outside the province that supply chips and roundwood to the mill.
Darrin pointed out that one of the consistent things he has observed about contracting is that things continually change. Recent provincial legislation directed forest management to plan partial cuts and less clearcutting. To that end, the Carters are retiring two Hornet processors and replacing them with the SP 761 single grip heads, which will allow those machines to handle partial cut harvests more effectively.
Another new technology to join the hardware line-up at Darrin Carter Logging is their drone.
“We have been using a drone on our operations for a couple of years, and it has become very nearly indispensable,” says Darrin. “We use it to fly our harvest blocks to ensure that we have processed and forwarded all the harvested trees. It’s very expensive for the block to be declared finished and move the processors out, and then have the forwarder operator discover a corner with bunched wood remaining.
“Such a situation requires additional floating costs and time out of production. With the drone, we can fly a block, and ensure all the wood is processed, and do a final flight to make sure all the wood has been forwarded, without investing a lot of time for a person to walk the entire block.
“Just recently, I was looking at a 200-acre block, to buy the stumpage. With the drone, I was able to fly the block and identify areas which had wood, and then go directly there and evaluate the wood, rather than investing a lot of time to walk the entire block. The drone also gives a real picture of the conditions of roads and locations of watercourses, and opportunities for crossings.”
Another change that Darrin sees on the horizon is the requirement to operate a smaller forwarder on partial cut blocks.
“Right now we are running 18 tonne forwarders and they are big when you are operating with crop trees along the trail. I can see that we may have to have a smaller forwarder to handle forwarding on partial cut blocks.”
Another issue Darrin sees that will impact his and many other contractors is the workforce aging out, and taking retirement.
“Right now, we have a number of operators who will be eligible to retire in a few years,” he explained. “With the uncertainty that surrounds forestry in Nova Scotia, there are not a lot of young people coming along to sit in those seats. We could have a real dilemma on our hands when those older operators step away from the industry.”
Darrin said his family was honoured to have their business be recognized as CWF Outstanding Contractor of the Year. He went on to share the benefit that CWF membership offers.
“Attending Canadian Woodland Forum events has numerous benefits,” he says. “It keeps us up to date on new technologies in the forest industry. We come home with ideas about how we can make our operations more efficient. The meetings are also an opportunity to meet with other contractors and discuss challenges we all face. In addition to business related things, it is also simply a great social event to catch up with friends and meet some new people.”
Referring to the plans to pass management responsibilities on to his sons who have worked in the business, Darrin pointed out: “Justin and Cody began working equipment while they were still in school. They enjoy working with equipment and they enjoy forestry. If they are going to make contracting their career, I think they are at the age when they should be making the commitment and establishing themselves in the industry.
“I could hold out and control the business well into the future, but that could lead them to hesitate about staying with it, and maybe they would choose a different career path,” he added.
“I’m convinced that the best strategy for us is to pass on the management responsibilities to them, and for myself to stay in the picture and work with them at arms length, and be available to offer business advice on request.
“For our future, my wife Renee and I want to have the option to be able to take off for a trip, without having to worry about the operation.”
Darrin shared that he has recently taken on some new challenges which he believes will provide a strategic benefit to the harvesting business.
“I got my air brake certification, and I passed the road test for my Class 1 driver’s license, and I bought a truck and float, and an excavator. I plan to have it to build roads for stumpage blocks that Jason and Cody operate. The excavator will also come in handy on company and Crown operations where the roads might need a little help to keep the operation and the wood moving.”
On the Cover:
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The Canadian Woodlands Forum’s Outstanding Logging Contractor of the Year, Darrin Carter Logging, is truly a family logging operation, with Darrin Carter in the process of having sons Justin and Cody take on increased responsibility in the business.
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