California Logger Keeps Focus on the Business

by | Jan 26, 2024 | 2024, Harvesting, January/February, TimberWest Magazine

Mount Akum, California – “I hate logging,” said Robert D’Agostini Jr., standing on the California ranch his great-grandparents settled six generations ago. “The only thing I hate more is not logging.”

The love-hate relationship is all part of the job for D’Agostini. As the president and CEO of J&R Logging in Mount Akum, California, he’s seen both sides. He got an early start logging with his father, working in the woods during the summer as a 14-year-old.

Robert D’Agostini Jr., CEO and president of J&R Logging. The company was founded by his father, Robert D’Agostini Sr., and a partner in 1979.

His father, Robert D’Agostini Sr., started J&R Logging in 1979 with a partner, John Jacino. The company started out as a contract log hauler, transitioning into logging operations in 1989. just one logging site and two trucks.

D’Agostini worked briefly in construction before returning to work for his father. He learned and worked as an equipment operator, primarily loading log trucks for about 18 years.

He bought out Jacino in 2003. At that time J&R was working for Wetsel Oviatt Lumber, a small family-owned sawmill that was purchased by Sierra Pacific in 2005. “Once we went to work for Sierra Pacific, there was an opportunity to flourish,” said D’Agostini.

Today D’Agostini, 49, CEO and president, runs the family business from their 800-acre ranch in Mount Akum, located about 50 miles east of Sacramento and not far from the western edge of the Eldorado National Forest. He is one of five partners in the business. He and his brother, Michael, 55, who oversees the company’s trucking business unit, each owns a one-third interest. The other one-third is held by Saul Jimenez, 49, who oversees the logging crews, and his two sons, Saul Jr. and Alex, who also work for the company.

D’Agostini’s father sold his interest in the business in 2008 after suffering a stroke. However, recovered and now 81, he is still involved in the company, picking up and delivering parts. And his mother, Leedy, who worked in banking served as the company’s bookkeeper for years, also serves in an advisory role on the board of directors.

J&R Logging has 56 employees in all. The company operates four logging crews – a cable logging unit and three ground-based crews – plus a road-building crew, and two employees work in the yard in chipping operations. In addition, it has nine logging trucks on the road. The three ground-based logging crews may work together or split between jobs.

J&R Logging operates a chip yard in Mount Aukum. A Peterson 2710B track chipper is used to process slash and substandard logs. The material is supplied for fuel to a cogeneration plant.

J&R logging harvests about 50 million board feet of timber annually. It also performs site preparation work 1,200-1,500 acres and builds or refurbishes about 100 miles of logging roads.

J&R Logging buys timber and contracts to companies to harvest timber. About 70 percent of the company’s work is contract logging, and most of that is for Sierra Pacific Industries. In fact, J&R Logging is one of Sierra Pacific’s top five producers. Logs go to the Sierra Pacific lumber mills in Oroville, Lincoln, Sonora, and Chinese Camp.

“I always say that we are a service-based business,” said D’Agostini. “We’re no different than someone providing a window washing service.”

That’s the basis of his relationship with Sierra Pacific and other customers, he indicated. “We treat them with great respect and as a partner to our company. Sierra Pacific is a partner for us, and it’s reciprocal. They treat us well because we treat them well.”

Jobs may range from 200 to 2,000 acres and produce largely saw logs. J&R Logging operates a yard where slash and substandard logs are hauled to be chipped with a Peterson 2710B track machine. The material is supplied for fuel to a cogeneration plant.

Five conifers are the dominant tree species in the Sierra Nevada region, according to D’Agostini: ponderosa pine, sugar pine, Douglas fir, white fir, and incense cedar. There is “quite a bit of steeper ground,” as would be expected, but also some flat areas. Red clay soils are common as is granite.

The company’s newest piece of equipment is a Tigercat LX830 feller buncher it began running in September. D’Agostini added the machine to replace an older Cat 522B that was retrofitted with a masticating attachment to be used in clean-up and site preparation work.

J&R Logging has a long history with Holt of California, a Cat dealership. Accordingly, the company has a long list of Cat logging equipment for logging, site prep work, and building roads. The roster includes a trio of Cat machines set up for processing, seven skidders, four feller bunchers, and six log loaders. At Holt of California, D’Agostini deals with Erick Munson; Erick’s father, Dale, was the Caterpillar rep to Robert D’Agostini Sr.

In recent years D’Agostini has begun adding Tigercat machines from Bejac’s Sacramento dealership for the simple reason of being able to call on two dealerships for service when needed. “Service is real important to us,” said D’Agostini. Relying on two brands and two dealerships allows him to “spread your risk a little bit” instead of overwhelming one dealer with calls for service if several machines need parts or repairs.

“J&R logging absolutely is a fantastic company to deal with – Robert, Mike, and Saul,” said Mark Davis, a Bejac rep at the Sacramento location. “Bejac enjoys working with those guys every day.”

Cat 336E shovel with Waratah attachment processes logs for J&R Logging. The company has relied on Waratah heads for processing for almost 20 years.

“We really try to focus on the service aspect,” added Davis. “Once we sell a machine, it’s the service department that picks up the ball and runs with it.” Technicians undergo constant in-service training to stay up-to-date on the latest technology in order to service customers.

D’Agostini praised both dealerships for their responsiveness. “Both their service departments are second to none on service and parts availability.”

“That’s what sells the machinery, to me,” he added.

J&R invested in its first Waratah heads for processing in 2005, switching from another brand despite some hesitation from Jimenez. Once the Waratahs were delivered, Jimenez was an instant believer.

“We see the difference in the speed and how there’s much less down time,” said Jimenez. “These are really good heads made of tough materials that are built to work.”

“The support at Waratah is great,” added D’Agostini. “If we want parts today, we can order them and pick them up in about three hours at the Sacramento airport.”

Since Bejac began representing Tigercat in California in 2020, J&R has purchased two Tigercat skidders, a harvester, a shovel logger, and a feller buncher. “My operators tell me they prefer to operate Tigercat,” said Jimenez. “They say the Tigercats are more controllable and drive better. They get less tired…If they are happy, I’m happy. If they are happy with the equipment and less tired, they are more productive.”

Tigercat 180 yarder with Acme G23 grapple carriage. Reorganizing yarding operations with the Tigercat 180 enabled the company to improve safety, reduce labor, and increase production.

J&R also invested in a Tigercat 180 swing yarder. Previously working with a conventional yarder and an eight-man crew, the company could count on six to eight loads per day from the yarding side. Reorganizing the yarding operations with the Tigercat 180 enabled the company to improve safety, reduce the crew from eight to four men, and increase production to 10-12 loads per day.

“It’s versatile,” said D’Agostini. “It’s nimble, it’s powerful…The functions are very smooth. Being able to move every single drum independently from one another is a game changer for cable logging.”

D’Agostini’s role is primarily preparing bids and securing work for the company, and he also is in charge of dispatching trucks. Working in an office with one other employee, he also tries to get in the woods one or two days per week to help as needed.

“It’s a tough market right now,” acknowledged D’Agostini. Demand for wood is low and prices are “pretty bad,” he said. “It’s putting a lot of pressure on delivered log prices. Delivered log prices need to be lower because markets are so soft, but inflation is driving up the cost and amplifying the problem.”

The company is “constantly” trying to improve efficiency and reduce expenses to offset the higher costs brought on by rising inflation in the past couple of years, said D’Agostini. “Efficiency is the most effective tool to combat inflation. We’re trying to be careful about fuel usage, time and motion with the machinery. We’re trying to get every little bit out of the machinery that we can.”

“That’s where these partnerships come into play,” added D’Agostini. “When we’re in a tough market, we’ll work together. When we’re in a good market, we all work together…We’re all producing for a common good, the consumer of lumber products.”

He had high praise for the company’s employees. “The team we have working for us are salt-of-the-earth folks, the best of the best,” said D’Agostini. “Many of them are our family and friends, plus those of our partners, the Jimenez family.”

Forestnet

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