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Making Good Use of Pine Bark

Company Processes Pine Bark into Gardening Products

By Peter Hildebrandt
Date Posted: 12/1/2005

ANDERSON, South Carolina — Steve Jarahian, general plant manager for the Fafard Inc. facility in Anderson, S.C., compares the company’s sizing and processing operations to a well-written book. When it comes to the bark the company processes, it must have a good beginning, middle and a great ending.

        Fafard produces bark products as well as potting soil and other growing media. The company is headquartered in Massachusetts but has operations in South Carolina, Florida and Canada.

        The company’s products are supplied to nurseries, greenhouses, and other similar businesses, packaged and sold and shipped with the Fafard label. Some of the company’s products are sold under other labels — such as Majestic Earth, Pikes, Gro South and Wyatt Quarles.

        Fafard looks carefully at what goes in at the start. For raw material it uses only pine bark that it obtains from sawmills and pulp mills in Georgia and the Carolinas. To ensure its requirements are met, Fafard inspects a few sample truckloads of bark to ascertain if the bark meets its specifications.

        Fafard tries to meet with suppliers at least annually to keep abreast of their operations and find out if they have plans to increase or reduce production. “With pine bark, it’s like money — you never have enough,” said Steve. “If there’s someone out there with pine bark that needs a home, just give us a call. I can always use more! Water costs are rising, and as a result mulch demand has increased.”

        Conrad Fafard started out selling hay out of railroad cars in the Northeast in the 1920s.  He also imported peat moss from Germany for sale in the U.S. During World War II, he could no longer get peat moss from Germany, so he looked for a source in Canada. He acquired ownership or leases to peat bogs in Canadian provinces. Today the business is considered the third largest Canadian peat company.

        Ownership of the company passed from Fafard, who had no children of his own, to his nephew, Herve Fafard. He ran the company for 37 years until retiring in 1990, and his son, Andre Fafard, took over the reins as president. So, Fafard is now in its third generation of family management.

        Fafard opened its Anderson plant in 1980. Steve was there in 1979, putting everything together. The decision to locate in the South was mainly driven by the need to have a ready source of pine bark.

        “This was a great area to locate due to the availability of pine bark,” said Steve.  “We basically went to the railroad at first and asked them to find us a building with a good rail siding as well as within a 100 mile radius of the Greenville, South Carolina area.”

        The company is currently operating from its third plant in Anderson after having outgrown their two earlier facilities. The first plant was leased while for the second plant the company bought 10 acres of land in 1982 and built it from the ground up. In 1993 it bought 77 acres and constructed the third plant. The Anderson operations have grown from a small plant that produced 1,000 bags of professional products per day to a high volume business that can produce up to 15,000 bags daily.

        The Anderson operations produce high quality soils and growing mediums for greenhouse operations as well as different types of landscape bark. When the bark arrives from sawmills and pulp mills, it is stored on the ground in a holding area. In the plant, the bark is screened, milled, and then segregated in piles to age. Some bark is processed by one of the company’s three grinders; it has grinding equipment from Progress, Tardiff and Weima-America. With the screening and sizing operations and grinding, the company produces a range of products from coarse landscape mulch to fine potting soil.

        With the help of some European engineers, Steve designed a separator that removes sticks and white wood from the bark. That separator consists of 12-inch rubber stars. If a stick is longer than three to four inches, the equipment will pick it out. The wood is processed in a ham­mermill and burned for fuel.

        Fafard has a dual-deck screening system featuring BM&M screeners for sizing. ‘Overs’ are screened out and processed in the Progress hammermill.

        “What we have is something of a closed loop,” said Steve. “I am grinding the coarser materials that won’t allow me to size it through the screener, and then once it’s ground, it is sized through the screener.”

        Fafard supplies more than 800 different custom blends of peat moss products, growing medias and similar products. Over 85% of the company’s formulas contain between 10%-80% pine bark.

        That great ending of the book, for Fafard, is a happy customer. Fafard strives to make sure its products are the best quality before they are shipped. It operates a greenhouse beside their plant in order to test its peat moss and potting soil products. Fafard has been serving greenhouses almost 80 years and has over 1,500 professional greenhouse growers as customers.

         Fafard is committed to providing consumers with the best growing sales available. They want homeowner customers to be successful gardeners so they will continue to buy the company’s line of products.

        “People tend to blame themselves when their gardening fails, but they don’t realize that some of the products they buy are not of the quality that helps them garden,” said Steve. “If Fafard helps you to be a successful gardener, you’re going to continue to do gardening. But if you fail at gardening, then those entertainment dollars go somewhere else. I think it all comes down to: do you know what’s in that bag of soil that you are purchasing?”

        “We are a high volume, low dollar business,” noted Steve. “This is pretty much the same as anyone who deals with raw wood products. With a truckload of blue jeans you are talking about $300,000. A truckload of potting soil is lucky to be worth $5,000. We have to remember this no matter how much movement and dynamics we see.”

        The plant employs about 48 workers, including some seasonal employees. Workers earn a salary or hourly wage and receive health insurance coverage. The company holds quarterly meetings for employees. Various worker and safety training is conducted, such as video instruction for proper lifting, eyewear safety, and other topics. Workers are required to wear safety glasses, and back braces and earplugs are available for employees to wear. The facility is mostly open-air, so it is hot in summer and cold in the winter.  In summer, fans are used for cooling, and in winter, infrared heaters help keep workers warm.

        The company is on its fifth generation of information technology for running the state-of-the-art plant. Computers monitor every six seconds for any problems with conveyors or hoppers.  If it detects any problems, it will shut down the equipment automatically. The system includes bridge switches, hi and low switches, RPM readouts, and pressure readouts that are designed to detect any problems at a moment’s notice and take action.

        A trip to a fast food restaurant proved to be an inspiration for Steve about 1998. Watching the operations in the restaurant, Steve got the idea to use touch screens in his control room.

                Fafard has over 400 employees in its three locations: Apopka, Fla., Agawam, Mass., and Anderson, S.C.  A series of manufacturer reps in 42 states report to Fafard’s district sales managers.  The company also promotes itself through magazines, the Internet, trade shows, field days and open houses.


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