Successful modern day logging businesses require efficiency to remain competitive

The high cost of today’s state-of-the-art logging equipment coupled with business and environmental regulations require modern logging businesses to develop sound work practices to stay profitable in current competitive market conditions.

Tracked cut-to-length wood processor. Photo credit: Mike Schira l MSU Extension

Tracked cut-to-length wood processor. Photo credit: Mike Schira l MSU Extension

Although there are still a few smaller logging operators using horses or mules along with hand-held chainsaws to produce logs and other wood products, they are rare in today’s industry. Research in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan indicates smaller chainsaw operators, most using motorized skidders to move wood, only account for about 6.5 percent of the total timber harvest by volume.

By far, the majority of wood produced by loggers today in the Lake States region comes from “cut-to-length” or “feller-buncher systems.” These systems utilize equipment that mechanically harvests trees and either cuts material to length in piles or cuts and bundles whole length tree stems.

The advantages that have caused a shift to these modern harvester systems are they require fewer workers, provide greater safety for the crews and are capable of several times more volume per worker while providing a considerable reduction in worker compensation insurance cost. Combined with a forwarder to move wood to semi-truck loading areas, today’s two person crews are capable of producing several semi loads of wood per day; all from the relative comfort of the fully enclosed cab of the equipment being used.

With the ability to reach out hydraulically to cut the trees, coupled with distributing machine weight across a large area, these machines can be operated with minimal soil disturbance. Skilled operators working in tandem with forwarder or skidder operators will place the wood in easy reach of machines also helping to reduce soil disturbance and unnecessary damage to residual trees.

Several years ago, Michigan State University Extension teamed with the Forest Products Industry, US Forest Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University to assess how much impact this modern equipment had on sensitive upland woodland sites. This study concluded, in part, that “under conditions similar to those at this site, thinnings can be performed during wet times of the year on these sites by large, modern harvesting equipment without causing undue damage to either the site or the residual stand.”

The additional cost of this mechanized equipment compared to conventional chain saw harvests is considerable. It is not uncommon for a two-person crew operating a cut-to-length harvester teamed with a rubber tired forwarder to have one million to two million dollars invested in just those two machines. Given the investment cost, it is critical for these mechanized harvest operators to run as efficiently as possible.

Breakdowns create down time with no production, so adherence to a maintenance schedule is important in keeping machinery operable. Having a sizable parts inventory on hand is a usual practice as well; to facilitate quick repairs should they be required.

Creation of roads and trails prior to moving in harvest machinery is a recommended practice. Pre-planning allows operators to smoothly begin work as soon as equipment is moved to the site. Sitting because of unfavorable weather conditions is also something to be avoided if possible. Most companies retain an inventory of harvest locations they can use to their advantage to keep harvests active as weather shifts, reducing damage to the harvest sites as well as keeping the wood moving.

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