Michel and Christine Parent have built MDA Foresterie from a single machine slashing wood at roadside to a five-machine cut-to-length operation which produces 75,000 to 80,000 tonnes of wood annually.
The plan is to cut back their current operation by selling their cut-to-length processors and forwarder to their sons David and Anthony this year, and offer them guidance to build their own forestry contracting business.
Michel has years of contracting experience, starting out working with his father Bertheleme’s operation, based out of the community of Kedgewick in northwest New Brunswick. At 10 years of age, Michel was loading trucks on the family contracting operation. At 18, Michel invested in a slasher and became a contractor for J. D. Irving (JDI). His business association with JDI continued for 15 years, and his harvesting kit expanded to include a feller buncher and a Landrich harvester with a Ponsse H7 head.
In 2000, Michel and Christine incorporated MDA Foresterie, and in 2017 they switched their harvesting operations to Groupe Savoie (a hardwood mill), bringing a John Deere 1910 forwarder and their Landrich harvester. Christine has continued to support the business by bringing her accounting talents to the business side of the enterprise.
The switch to Groupe Savoie also coincided to an increase in contract volume, a switch to more Tigercat gear and more involvement of his sons David and Anthony in the family business.
A Tigercat 1075 (20 tonne) forwarder joined the team in 2018, followed by a Tigercat 845 with a Log Max 7000 head in 2019. Again in 2021, a Tigercat 1055 (14 tonne) forwarder joined to back-up the 1075 forwarder. The 1055 goes to work when the 1075 is down for service, or when the processed wood on the ground is getting too far ahead.
An 845 Tigercat buncher with Tigercat felling head leads the MDA harvesting operation, and the Landrich continues to be a key part of the operation.
Michel’s plan to transition his sons into the contracting business will see him selling them the machinery kit, save for the buncher which he plans to continue to contract with Groupe Savoie. Michel will also hang on to the 1055 forwarder for “personal” use.
David and Anthony grew up immersed in the family contracting business, and they began tailing their father to the woods to see operations and to lend a hand at mechanical repairs and maintenance. They also began operating the equipment in their teens.
To further encourage their education and skill acquisition, Michel encouraged the boys to attain post secondary education. David completed a diploma in heavy equipment at College Communautaire New Brunswick at the Bathurst Campus and Anthony gained certification in welding from the Bathurst college.
“Having an education in heavy equipment and welding provides us with skills to make sure the equipment keeps operating,” commented David. “I also have experience operating the buncher, processors and forwarders. Anthony has operating experience with the processors and forwarders.”
Currently, Anthony takes a regular shift on the Landrich/Log Max processor, while David supervises and focuses on service and repairs through the day shift. David has operating experience with all the equipment. “My father operates all of our machines, so together we are able to cover for an operator who is out for a day,” says David.
On the night shift, Michel is on site and or on call for any mechanical issues that occur.
Michel shared that he was immediately impressed with the Tigercat 1075 forwarder soon after it went to work in the MDA operation. “With the forwarder, we soon learned that Tigercat builds very reliable and high performing machines. We have also developed a very good relationship with Wajax, our Tigercat dealer in Moncton,” commented Michel.
“Wajax has a comprehensive parts inventory. And we can get smaller parts delivered overnight by bus, which means in most cases the machine is back in production in a very short time,” said Michel.
David pointed out another advantage to building Tigercat into their contracting business is in the area of stocking wear and other replacement parts, which are common to their Tigercat machines, and streamlining the spare parts inventory.
“I also like having the common Tigercat base because experience with the machines makes us familiar with service schedules, and the ability to recognize when components need attention, before they fail, and avoid a lot of unnecessary downtime and expenses” said David.
“We are very happy with the performance of the Log Max head,” he added. “It has two drive wheels that hug the stem from the side. Our hardwoods are notoriously hard to process because typically they have crook and sweep.
“With the Log Max, the wheels follow the stem, while other heads we have used tend to operate as if they were trying to straighten the sweep, and as a result, they tend to spin out and or lose measurement,” explained David. “When a processing head spins out, the operator has to drop the tree and reposition the head to continue processing.
“It takes time to drop and reposition, and that is non-productive time. Over a twelve-hour shift that can accumulate a good deal of production loss. We find the Log Max very effective working in hardwoods.
“We also like the Log Max for its design,” said David. “After you take the hood off the back, all the hoses and solenoids are visible and reasonably accessible. Other heads we have worked with are not so well engineered, and take more time to do maintenance or repairs.”
In the service trailer, David pointed to a series of cases with the Log Max logo. “That service kit came with the head, and basically it contains every part required to overhaul the head. Our Log Max dealer is in Moncton and they provide excellent support. Another advantage with the Log Max head is the computer which is very intuitive and easy to work with. That kind of solid engineering makes troubleshooting issues and making adjustments easier to carry out, and gets us back into production faster.”
Watching the buncher at work, Michel shared that the operator, Sylvain Lavoie, has been working with Michel for fifteen years.
“Sylvain has worked with every type of machine that we have—and in the buncher, he is critical to maintaining high productivity with each step that follows him. He clearly understands the importance of making separate bunches of each species, because there are several sorts for spruce and fir products, and similarly several species specific sorts for the hardwoods.
“Sylvain understands that bunches have to be strategically placed so that processors can reach the bunches, and have adequate space to pile specific products in separate piles. He understands that the forwarder must be able to maneuver and be able to build loads that allow products to be kept separate. The set-up by the buncher impacts our production efficiency right to roadside.”
The Groupe Savoie sawmill at St. Quentin saws hardwoods, including aspen, to produce high quality, value-added hardwood lumber products, as well as sawing lower grade hardwoods for pallet manufacturing. Groupe Savoie is a sub-licensee for AV Group, which operates dissolving pulp mills at Atholville in the northern part of the province and at Nackawic, which is closer to the centre of the province. The 10-foot pulp logs are directed to Atholville and sixteen-foot pulp logs go to the Nackawic mill.
Softwoods in the forest mix, mainly spruce and balsam fir, are produced into sawlogs, directed to the J. D. Irving sawmill at St. Leonard, and to the Twin Rivers sawmill in Plaster Rock. Softwood studwood, eight- and nine-foot logs, go to the J. D. Irving mill in Kedgewick. Eight- and ten-foot studwood logs are also directed to the Chaleur Sawmill in Belledune. At Groupe Savoie, high quality maple and birch (greater than eight-inch top diameter) is sorted out in the harvest operation and directed to their Restigouche sawmill. High quality aspen logs are also sorted and directed to the Restigouche mill. Lesser quality hardwood (top diameter greater than 3.25 inch) is directed to the pallet sawmill, adjacent to the Restigouche mill at St. Quentin.
It is something of an understatement to say that product sorting is complex. Michel explained that with each harvest block, he receives a prescription for product sorts, and he programs the processor computers to help ensure species, diameter and length parameters are met.
In addition to complex sorts, MDA Foresterie also meets silviculture guidelines in hardwood stands, which have the potential to develop high value hardwood timber. About 20 per cent of MDA’s harvesting is selection, and another 20 per cent are strip cuts to encourage tolerant hardwood regeneration. The balance of the harvesting is clearcut, since the stands do not offer much development potential or tolerant hardwoods.
In selection harvest, the feller buncher operates on a five-metre wide trail and reaches into a 20-metre wide leave strip, to select species other than sugar maple and yellow birch, but leaving a specific crown closure to encourage natural regeneration and allow the high quality trees to develop further.
Strip cuts are on the same five-metre trail and 20-metre leave strip, but with no fibre harvested from the leave strip. The strategy is to allow light into the trail and sides of the leave strip, to encourage natural regeneration.
The hardwood silviculture prescriptions are guided by Northern Hardwood Research Institute silviculture guidelines.
Cutblock maps are delivered by data stick and they show harvest block perimeter, roads, buffers and other details. As the feller buncher operates, the onboard computer (GPS) establishes a coloured line on the map representing the trail that has been cut. As each subsequent harvesting step occurs, different coloured lines are laid down in the mapping data. Michel explained that the mapping tool helps keep operators productive and provides him with a clear overview of the progress of the operation.
Mud season is the time for training. Groupe Savoie sponsors operator training that covers workplace safety, silviculture aspects and environmental security. Additionally, MDA contracts a two-day First Aid training course for all their employees. Groupe Savoie staff make at least two visits with MDA crews through the year to review all aspects of operational safety, environmental and silviculture issues.
David and Anthony plan to make a deal with Michel and Christine to buy out the two processors and the 1075 forwarder, form a business partnership, and negotiate a contract with Groupe Savoie. Michel plans to contract the feller buncher for Groupe Savoie, bunching on his sons’ operation, harvesting roads for Groupe Savoie and bunching for other contractors.
“We are very positive about the opportunity to become harvest contractors,” said David. “Groupe Savoie is a family business that has been around for a long time and they continually expand the manufacturing of hardwood lumber into products which are in very high demand by many markets. Our father reminds us that when he was going to school, he was told there was no future in cutting wood, because all the trees would be cut down in 20 years.
“We still have lots of trees and we see them grow every year, so we are pretty sure there will always be trees to harvest, and a need for well managed businesses to contract the harvesting,” said David.
While Anthony and David have admirable goals, the contacting business will still present many challenges.
“I will be around and be able to keep an eye on their operation and offer guidance if required,” explained Michel. “Another thing they have going for them is Christine will be doing their accounting, and believe me, if they look like they are making a bad business decision, she will straighten them out, very quickly, no question about it!”