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Massachusetts Logger Rides Out Roller Coaster Markets for Wood: Dylan Field Relies on Log Max Harvester for Cut-To-Length Logging
Northeast logger tries to find balance processing hardwood and softwood logs. Tariffs, weak supply and demand has affected production.
By Dave Coleman
Date Posted: 11/6/2018
NORTHFIELD, Massachusetts — Dylan Field took the unusual step of going into business for himself, going into the logging business, and going into cut-to-length logging — all at the same time.
It’s been a roller coaster ride at times, but a Log Max harvester attachment and support from the manufacturer have helped smooth out some of those ups and downs.
Dylan’s company, Dylan Field Logging Inc., is based in Northfield, Mass., which is just east of the I-91 corridor and just below the Vermont border. Dylan, 31, grew up in Leverett, about 19 miles south.
While he was still in high school, Dylan began working for Wagner Wood, a land-clearing contracting company in Amherst. He started out sweeping floors, putting away tools, and emptying trash. Wagner had a handful of forestry machines in addition to excavators, chippers and grinders. Dylan stayed with the company for 12 years. By the time he left, he had experience operating all the equipment and also was bidding jobs and “doing a little bit of everything.”
In 2014 he decided it was time for a change. Another close friend, John Conkey, one of the owners of John H. Conkey & Sons Logging, was in the process of buying a new cut-to-length harvester and selling his old one, a Timbco 425 with a Rollie II head. Dylan inquired about buying it.
Getting into cut-to-length logging was “definitely a learning experience,” recalled Dylan. He had the benefit of operating a feller buncher at Wagner Wood. The bunching head was mounted on the same type of carrier, a Timbco 425.
Although he knew he wanted to do something different, he wasn’t 100 percent sure in what direction he would go. Then the opportunity arose to buy the used equipment from John. “Everything kind of fell into place after that,” said Dylan.
At the same time, another business that Dylan was familiar with, West End Firewood, was struggling to get an adequate supply of firewood logs. The company offered to invest in a forwarder to subcontract to Dylan in exchange for his agreement to supply them with firewood logs.
“It helped me out,” noted Dylan, since he didn’t have to invest in two cut-to-length logging machines at once. And the agreement has helped out West End Firewood, helping to keep it supplied with the logs it requires.
“Quite a few people went out of their way for me to get into the business a little easier and get me started in the right direction,” said Dylan. John was of particular help. Dylan talked at length with him about cut-to-length logging, his territory, production volume, and markets.
John even went so far to help finance Dylan’s purchase in conjunction with two lenders. The arrangement enabled Dylan to buy the harvester without having to make a down payment. “I never could have got started,” he said, without that key help from John. “It made all the difference to me.”
Two years later, Dylan had an opportunity to buy a self-leveling TimberPro 735B with only 170 hours of use. “It still had the plastic on the seat,” said Dylan, “like brand new.” He purchased the TimberPro, removed the Rollie II from the Timbco, and mounted it on the new carrier. He ran that combination about a year.
Around Thanksgiving last year, Dylan was approached by another logger who was interested in buying the Rollie II. At the same time, Dylan was interested in upgrading his harvester attachment, so he sold the Rollie II and purchased a new Log Max 7000XT fixed head cut-to-length harvester attachment from Anderson Equipment in Lancaster, N.H., and installed it himself.
Dylan had seen Log Max exhibit at the last few Northeastern Forest Products Equipment Expositions in Bangor, Maine, and Essex Junction, Vermont. “It definitely seemed like a well-built product that I wanted to give it a shot.”
“It seemed like a well-designed piece of equipment,” he added.
“It’s worked out well,” said Dylan. “There’s definitely a learning curve going to anything different.”
The Log Max 7000XT fixed head, with a maximum cut of 28 inches, has the same hydraulics package as the 7000XT dangle head, noted Dylan. Log Max has sold quite a few of the dangle head units, and they perform well and for long hours, he noted, although the fixed head has only been available for a few years.
Hoses and key components of the Log Max are well protected with guarding, he noted. “They put a lot of thought into the way they reinforced the head and guarded it to minimize problems in operation,” said Dylan.
Log Max is a Swedish company that has been manufacturing forestry equipment since 1980. The company’s main product line is a range of cut-to-length grapple harvesters, also called single grip harvesters. Its North American operations are based in Vancouver, Washington.
Log Max manufactures more than 500 harvesters annually. The company’s biggest markets are North America, South America, and Russia. Log Max harvesters are working in more than 30 countries.
(For more information about Log Max and its product line, visit www.logmax.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (360) 699-7300.)
Josh Fallon, a Log Max customer support representative, spent three days with Dylan to help him get started with the new harvester. On the first day Josh helped record and document pressures and operating functions as part of the company’s warranty and provided Dylan with initial training. The next two days Josh helped fine-tune adjustments to the Log Max for Dylan and the kind of timber he harvests. “It was definitely an impressive start-up program they have, for sure,” said Dylan.
He paid a lot of compliments to Josh. He “has gone above and beyond,” said Dylan. “He’ll do whatever he can to make everything right. He’s a huge asset to the company.”
“He’s unbelievable,” added Dylan. “He’s knowledgeable about harvester heads. He’s run cut-to-length equipment before, which I think is a huge advantage. He’ll call you back — late at night, on the weekend, anytime he can be on the phone. He goes out of his way to get you back up and running as quickly as possible.”
Josh lives in Minnesota but is in the Northeast regularly to follow up with customers. “Even if you don’t have a problem, if he’s going by your job he’ll swing by, look over the head, answer any questions you have,” said Dylan. “He definitely follows up pretty regularly.”
(By the way, TimberLine would like to congratulate Josh and his wife who welcomed their first child into their home recently as she gave birth to a baby girl.)
About 50-60 percent of the work that Dylan does is for one customer, W.D. Cowls Inc.; the remaining jobs are harvesting timber that Dylan buys from private landowners. The work takes Dylan throughout Massachusetts and into southern Vermont and New Hampshire. He tries to stay within an hour’s drive of home.
W.D. Cowls, a ninth generation family-owned business, is one of the largest private landowner in Massachusetts. It manages thousands of acres of timberland, residential and commercial property, and operates a building supply business. In the past it also operated a sawmill. Dylan contracts to harvest timber on the company’s timberland holdings.
W.D. Cowls owns 15,000 acres of timberland, according to Dylan. The tracts vary by terrain, species, timber quality, and other factors. “Every job is different,” said Dylan, who normally contracts per thousand board feet. He may be contracted to do thinning, overstory removal, or other types of harvesting. “With most lots I’ll go over it with their head forester and come up with a plan and prescription and adjust it as the job progresses.”
The forests in the region are about 60 percent softwood and 40 percent hardwood. “A lot of hemlock and Eastern white pine,” noted Dylan. In fact, dominant species in the region are hemlock, white pine, and red oak. Soft maple, black birch, and beech also are abundant. Closer to the Berkshires (Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts), there is more hard maple, soft maple, yellow and black birch, and less oak and white pine.”
Kyle VandenAkker, 26, operates the Komatsu (formerly Valmet) 860.4 eight-wheel forwarder purchased by West End Firewood and subcontracts his services to Dylan. Anderson Equipment also supplied the forwarder. Kyle’s father, Dwayne, owns and operates the firewood company with Dwayne’s brother, Bruce.
West End Firewood is based in Whitinsville. The company sells packaged firewood wholesale to distributors who supply it to gas stations, convenience stores, and other businesses for eventual sale to homeowners.
Kyle, who grew up and lives in Whitinsville, which is about 15 miles southeast of Worcester, has worked in logging since 2011. He and Dylan got to know each other when they both worked at Wagner Wood. “We started talking about cut-to-length and working in the woods, and it just snowballed from there,” recalled Kyle.
Dylan and Kyle work on the same job virtually all the time. They have only worked on different jobs a couple of times, and that was only for a few weeks.
At the landing, Kyle ‘hot’ loads directly from the forwarder onto waiting log trucks if their arrival can be coordinated, and he also unloads and stacks logs at the landing. They are in touch with the truck drivers via text so that Kyle is at the landing to load them when they arrive.
Dylan processes the trees directly in front of the harvester, so the limbs drop directly in front of the machine while the logs fall to the right when they are bucked. He maneuvers over the slash as he progresses into the stand, and Kyle follows the same mat of slash in the forwarder.
“He puts wood on the ground, I pick it up,” said Kyle. “It works good. We work good together.”
Besides reducing ground compression and rutting, the slash benefits the forest floor in additional ways, noted Dylan. “It puts organic matter back into the ground to help grow the remaining trees and helps reduce erosion.”
The TimberPro leveling cab comes in handy in hilly terrain. There is plenty of steep ground in western Massachusetts as you edge closer to the Berkshires, noted Dylan.
Dylan’s average weekly production is about 10-12 loads in hardwood, 20-25 in softwood, between saw logs and pulp. That works out to about 15 loads per week.
The biggest challenge has been wood markets. “I would have to say the markets have been the biggest roller coaster,” said Dylan. When he started, all the markets were pretty strong — high grade saw logs, low grade, and pulp.
“About nine months after I started, the pulp market in Maine shut off completely,” said Dylan. Saw logs “stayed moving pretty well until this last year.”
“Between tariffs in China affecting the hardwood markets and (weak) supply and demand in Canada for pine, it’s definitely been a roller coaster.”
Most pine and hemlock saw logs are supplied to mills in Canada although Dylan also has a few mills in every New England state except Rhode Island. A portion of his white pine production goes to sawmills in New Hampshire and Maine. Hardwood saw logs are sold through brokers who have global markets.
The hardwood market “is not good,” he said. China has stopped buying hardwood logs, and local markets have been flooded with them.
Another factor has been a massive infestation of gypsy moths in eastern Massachusetts that killed oak timber, and large tracts of that timber are being cut to salvage the wood. Those logs are adding to an already over-supplied market.
The softwood saw log market slowed down more than usual in the summer, but has heated back up for hemlock and white pine.
The pulp market in Maine “has started to come back a little bit,” said Dylan. Mills are buying logs again although prices have not recovered.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have such a wide variety of species and terrain,” said Dylan, “as unstable as markets have been. We’ve always been able to move around somewhere to cut a product that’s still moving, or where ground conditions will hold up in the weather.”
Dylan is a member of the Massachusetts Forestry Alliance, which advocates on behalf of members for a strong, sustainable forest economy. He takes continuing education classes through MFA or the state.
His wife, Ellen, does the bookkeeping for the company. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter.
“The closest thing I have to a hobby,” said Dylan, “I have some beef cows, but they’re pretty low maintenance.” They have a 26-acre pasture on which they raise 10 beef cows and slaughter one or two a year.
Dylan works seven days a week, even if it’s just going out to look at a wood lot on a Sunday. “It’s more like a lifestyle than a job, I guess.”
“I definitely wouldn’t have it any way,” said Dylan. There have been plenty of challenges, he added — with equipment, weather, and markets. “Nothing’s ever easy.”
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