Mechanisation and forest value recovery – is your fillet steak being turned to sausage meat?

In 1987 I visited harvester/forwarder operations in Sweden’s Lappland.  At lunch we stood in snow and drank coffee by fire on the beach of a frozen lake.  The guy with the matches was once hired as draught horse logger, but now engaged in the most advanced forest harvest on the planet.

Many traditional forest activities are destined for mechanised replacement.  E.g, The average age of a forest worker is lifting (58 years for a faller in B.C Canada) and it costs up to $100K to train a replacement.  The temptation is huge to see mechanisation as a panacea for skills shortage.

“No worker on a saw and no worker on the hill”, is a lofty new slogan aimed at capping harvest accidents at zero, and ensuring more efficient harvest.  Operators are safe and warm all day and cut tons fast.  It is easy to become excited about this revolution.  But we need to make sure we don’t drop our knitting.

How safe is your forest value, when a harvester mows and processes hundreds of trees a day to meet its hefty price ticket and running cost?

It turns out, not very safe at all, unless specific processes are in place.  And followed.

What is the optimal mix of harvest efficiency and attention to log manufacturing for best harvest profit?  Of course the answer is – it depends.  To understand these questions, Alex Tolan completed an excellent Masters project on the subject.  There is a link to this in the resources section of this site.

Don’t marvel at hi-tech gear, without taking steps to ensure that mechanisation in your forest is at the top of its potential for forest value recovery.   Your planning, systems and daily discipline are essential to achieving this.  Otherwise poor log making (bucking) will fast wreck the value of your slow grown forest.   Here is the logic behind this:

  • Mechanised processors hold a moving stem at a distance from the operator as opposed to a logmaker walking alongside each log where they can check and measure its features.
  • Operators are chosen for mechanical or productive ability rather than value recovery knowledge.  If they are an able log maker, this is often by chance rather than strict choice.
  • High running costs mean that production is a major driver.  This implies least time to assess and optimise each stem.  Unless your operator is exceptionally skilled and motivated to capture value, and the machine and its measurement and optimisation equipment are top notch, you can expect mayhem, not optimal forest value recovery.
  • Onboard optimisation tools will predict stem form, based on the character of previous stems.  While this can be fairly accurate (on average) in a regular stand, it will provide inappropriate solutions for some stems, the outliers, perhaps the best ones.

Given the length of time forest takes to grow, it makes no sense at all to neglect value capture in the harvest phase.  So what are your options for success with mechanised processing?

  • Grow your organisation’s skills in value recovery, put them into practice and create routines to sustain the improvements you make.  Recognise and reward these.
  • Build systems to consistently train staff, audit activity, calibrate gear and manage data from harvesters to best possible effect.  Grow a value recovery culture around all of these aspects.
  • Send processor data to the office and relevant information back to the forest daily.  Use this data to analyse operator skill, training needs, grade outturn and production.   Note that  production data will be sensitive to your contractors, agreement about your view of this is polite if you wish to have a cooperative relationship over data.
  • Integrate data into your business, apply intelligence to it, and act on what you learn.  Discuss results with your contractors and operators.  Involve them, draw conclusions and make improvements that they will take ownership of too.  Share the fruits of innovation.
  • If you want help with cutting edge data management, talk to Ian Wilson (+6421435696) at ForestPHD about STICKS, a flexible and scalable cloud based harvesting and woodflow management and monitoring solution based on StanForD data.
  • Your systems don’t do all the above yet?  It may be time for you to get busy following the example of those who have already succeeded.

With expansion in forest mechanisation and more robust data transfer, now is a great time to make sure that your gains from mechanised harvest are all they can be.  That way all parties can celebrate top results during harvest, rather than experience the harsh regret of a suboptimal harvest operation.

Commit to some simple steps, involve your contractors, engage relevant support and you can ensure that you maximise profit and satisfaction from your mechanised harvest operations.

James Powrie B.For.Sc (Hons)

James Powrie is a Freelance Forester and has worked in all aspects of forestry since starting with the NZ Forest Service in 1984.

He offers Education, Planning Assistance and Coaching for Forest Owners, Directors, Investors and others wanting to Maximise Forest Value Recovery at Harvest.

He is also available for conference sessions and workshops by arrangement.    |   +64 272 757757    |

You may wish to join the Forest Value Recovery Group on LinkedIn   Click here>