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Mississippi Company, a Major Producer in South, Finds Chambers Delimbinator Speeds Production, Saves Labor

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 9/1/2000

Mississippi Company, a Major Producer in South, Finds Chambers Delimbinator Speeds Production, Saves Labor

By Jack Petree
Contributing Author

PORT GIBSON, Miss. — Charles Donald Timber Co. is one of the South’s major pulpwood producers as well as one of its older companies. Founded by Charles Donald Sr. in the late 1940s, Charles Donald Timber Co. is a premier example of how foresight and long-term planning can benefit a forest products company.

The company is versatile, obtaining wood from its own lands, private landowners, paper company lands, and from contractors. Wood is stored in one of many concentration yards scattered throughout Mississippi or hauled directly to paper mills or sawmills. Because Charles Donald Timber Co. can store and preserve wood, it is able to keep its contractors working when others are closed down or working restricted schedules. Its large log inventory also enables the company to provide fiber to mills when it is otherwise in short supply and to ride out both economic and weather-related vagaries that impact the forest products industry from time to time.

Charles Donald Timber Co. remains a family-owned and family-operated business. Katie Donald, Charles’ wife, and her three sons, Charles Jr., George, and David, run the company from two main offices in Port Gibson and Durant. Charles is responsible for the overall operations of the company, George looks after many of the field operations, and David manages the office functions of the enterprise.

Charles Donald Timber Co. is one of Mississippi’s largest producers of fiber. Last year it generated more than 800,000 tons of pine pulpwood, 624,000 tons of hardwood pulpwood, 89,000 tons of pine saw logs, and 70,000 tons of hardwood saw logs — and that was 20% below the company’s normal production. The pulpwood is managed through one of 14 wood yards throughout the state; the company has 10 long log yards, and it operates four short wood yards. Most of the company’s production comes from Mississippi although a limited amount of wood also is obtained in adjoining states. Much of the pine is harvested from pine plantations — the company is a major contractor for thinning operations — while the other is obtained from open forest landowners who have decided to harvest timber. The Donald family’s interests also include 3,000-plus acres of forested land that is managed for timber.

The key to Charles Donald Timber Co.’s success over the years has been its flexibility, according to Charles. He credited his father with the foresight for establishing the kind of business that enables Charles Donald Timber Co. to maintain control over its operations to some extent rather than being completely controlled by wood markets.

While the company maintains some logging crews and machinery of its own, harvesting is accomplished primarily using independent contractors who work under the supervision of Charles Donald Timber Co.’s five full-time foresters. The contractors tend to be specialists, according to George, with some working primarily in pine plantation thinning.

For the most part, logs are merchandised in the forest; logs that can be processed into grade lumber are taken to sawmills, and pulpwood goes to the company’s wood yards or directly to mills.

Ten of the yards are dedicated mainly to long logs, Charles explained. Short logs go to four additional yards. Since pulp and paper mills in the region sometimes are unwilling to accept short material, especially in times of over-supply, the short wood yards do not operate on a full-time basis. When some of the small mills are not taking short wood and do not plan to accept any in the foreseeable future, Charles Donald Timber Co. adjusts to the changes in the marketplace by scaling down operations in the yards handling short pulpwood or temporarily suspending their operations.

When logs and wood are brought into one of the Charles Donald Timber Co. yards, they are put directly onto rail cars for shipping to a mill that has contracted for raw material. If the yard has surplus wood, the logs are put into storage, where they may remain for as much as six or seven months. While the wood could be kept longer, Charles said that Charles Donald Timber Co. prefers to rotate its fiber supply to ensure that the wood does not begin to break down and adversely impact the mill operations of its customers.

The ability to obtain and store large volumes of wood is a key element in Charles Donald Timber Co.’s operations. Depending on the time of the year and market conditions, each yard maintains between 2,000 and 5,000 cords of wood in inventory, according to George. In order to maintain the logs and wood in good condition for the mills, the yards are equipped with extensive watering systems; the logs are kept wet to prevent them from drying out, cracking, and deteriorating.

The company’s pulpwood yards provide an important benefit to others in the forest products industry, Charles noted. Because Charles Donald Timber Co. can buy wood and store it for use later, it smooths out the peaks and valleys of the logging cycle for both the mills that it serves and the loggers who contract for harvesting.

The mills benefit because they have access to a steady supply of wood. When weather or some other factor precludes logging, Charles Donald Timber Co. can turn to its log inventory to fill the void. "This time of year (summer), we store wood in the yards," said Charles. "Then, when it gets wet and people can’t get the logs out, there is a supply available. If we didn’t have wood yards, the mills could run short of fiber and have to make other arrangements, which would be both expensive and could disrupt their operations."

The contractors who work the forests for Charles Donald Timber Co. also benefit from the arrangement. Mills can only take so much wood when the harvest season is in full swing, so loggers are put on quotas. Because of Charles Donald Timber Co.’s extensive network of wood yards, however, loggers still can sell their wood when quotas are tight, said Charles. Loggers can maximize their income when wood is available, which helps them ride out times when harvesting is difficult or impossible.

Charles Donald Timber Co.’s extensive operations of acquiring, storing, and delivering wood means there is a considerable amount of cooperation between the company, its logging contractors, and the mills. Charles Donald Timber Co. depends on its contractors to operate effectively and to keep it supplied with wood when logging operations can be conducted. The mills depend on Charles Donald Timber Co. to have fiber available at times when other supplies are short; Charles Donald Timber Co., in turn, must depend on the mills to buy its pulpwood at a price that allows it to cover the significant costs of inventorying and storing logs. They all work together to make the system work, Charles said. "We have a commitment to the mills, and we believe they have a commitment to us. We also work very closely with our contractors to assure they have the means to hold up their end of the commitment and benefit from their relationship with us."

Charles Donald Timber Co. also helps its logging contractors with financing equipment. Modern timber harvesting relies on expensive machinery, especially in thinning operations. Thinning requires that large amounts of fiber be extracted from plantations in a way that minimizes ground disturbance and also leaves the remaining trees unharmed and able to grow to their full potential. Harvesting must be rapid, efficient, done to the highest standards, and conducted to produce the largest volume of fiber for the least amount of investment per unit of wood produced. The most economical logging operations usually require more expensive machinery for highly specialized functions, noted George, so Charles Donald Timber Co. has helped its primary contractors to obtain equipment financing.

The Chambers Delimbinator is used both by Charles Donald Timber Co. and several of its contractors. It serves as an example of how an expanded machinery investment can result in reduced overall costs, said George. Charles Donald Timber Co. has provided financing for its contractors to purchase the Chambers Delimbinator because the machine increases production and reduces labor costs. The increased production and labor savings more than compensate for the price differential compared to equipment that may cost less to buy.

"We’ve been doing thinning for a long time," said George. "We’ve used the pull-through equipment and knew there had to be a better way." The Chambers Delimbinator has proven to be that "better way" in many situations, he continued. The production rates of the machines are much faster, said George. In addition, one less worker is required on each crew using the machine, depending on the parameters of the mills. The reduction in manpower costs combined with increases in production speed more than make up for the higher initial investment, according to George.

In the forest products industry, too often there may be a disconnect between loggers and mills. More than most companies, Charles Donald Timber Co. understands that the process of harvesting, transporting, storing, and then delivering usable fiber to the mill is one of teamwork. Loggers depend both on companies like Charles Donald Timber Co. and the mills that Charles Donald Timber Co. serves. Equally, Charles Donald Timber Co. depends on its loggers. Neither survives or thrives without the mill. The mills, on the other hand, need the help of those that keep it supplied with the fiber that is the lifeblood of its operations.

The Donald brothers are modest about their company’s accomplishments, but it is evident that by facilitating the interaction between loggers and mills, Charles Donald Timber Co. will thrive and help others to thrive, too. By doing that, Charles Donald Timber Co. enhances the outlook for the entire forest products industry in the region that it serves.


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