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Mulch Keeps Contractor Going All Year ''Round

M-R Wood Recycling of New Hampshire find pelletized mulch colorant from Interstar is easy to apply.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 10/2/2002

DERRY, New Hampshire — Land clearing is the primary focus of M-R Wood Recycling, but the company also grinds wood waste into mulch and makes colored mulch.

A family-owned company, M-R Wood Recycling was founded in 1971 by Marshall Roy. It takes its name from Marshall’s initials. Today, Marshall and his three sons, Norm, Danny and Dave, own the business jointly, and they are partners in its operation.

Norm joined M-R Wood Recycling in 1979 immediately after he graduated from high school. Danny and Dave each joined the company after graduating from college; both men studied business. Norm spoke with TimberLine about his family’s land clearing and mulching business.

M-R Wood Recycling started out as an excavation company, subcontracting for other businesses that built houses and roads. Marshall had construction experience in Canada and emigrated from Canada just over 30 years ago with his family in tow and started the business.

In 1987 M-R Wood Recycling "went into wood grinding," said Norm. "Not too many people were doing it then," he explained, and it looked like a good niche to fill. As the grinding aspect of the business took off, the company exited excavating work to focus on land clearing, which fit better with its grinding operations. Grinding is an integral component of the business today, especially because it allows the company to operate all year.

During part of the winter, deep snow often precludes land clearing operations. In addition, soggy, muddy ground during the spring thaw also forces the company to a temporary halt. During these periods, M-R Wood Recycling uses the time to perform
routine and heavy machine maintenance — and to grind. Norm has also begun to explore the feasibility of coloring mulch in winter.

This year M-R Wood Recycling started using a new, dry mulch colorant from InterStar, a company in St. Elie D’Orford, Quebec. "We were using other dry colorant before," said Norm, but decided to change to a different mulch colorant. The company changed to InterStar colorant, said Norm, because its pelletized form is easier to apply. M-R Wood Recycling churns out black, red, orange and brown mulch. Red and orange are "definitely the most popular" colors, Norm said.

Dry colorant for mulch is a recent innovation from InterStar, but the Canadian company is known widely for its research, development and manufacture of pigments to color concrete and mortar and the production of chemical reinforcing fibers for the concrete industry.

As makers of colored mulch know, an important benefit of dry colorant is that it allows mulch to be bagged as soon as the color takes hold. M-R Wood Recycling does not bag its mulch products, but with demand high, anything that speeds up the process earns the attention of Norm. The company sells all the colored mulch it can make, he said; if it makes more, it can sell more.

M-R Wood Recycling sells its mulch almost exclusively wholesale and primarily to brokers. Its market area overlaps with the region where the company takes land clearing jobs. It encompasses New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, and Rhode Island. Derry, N.H., which is home to M-R Wood Recycling, lies about 20 miles north of the Massachusetts line and about 40 miles southeast of the state capital of Concord.

In its land clearing operations, M-R Wood Recycling encounters just about any kind of tree that is native to New England. Historically, the Granite State has been renowned for its white pine, but southern New England also supports mixed hardwoods. And because M-R Wood Recycling works in eastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod, it encounters coastal species.

M-R Wood Recycling is equipped with three grinders from Continental Biomass Industries (CBI). The CBI grinders process logs, stumps and brush into mulch or wood chips. In some cases, landowners want the chips from clearing operations to remain on-site for erosion control or substrate improvement, so not all output from the grinders is sold as mulch. Depending on the prices in wood fiber markets, M-R Wood Recycling also occasionally sells grindings for fuel.

The CBI grinders combine two features that particularly suit the way they are used by M-R Wood Recycling, noted Norm. They are portable and "rugged-built," he explained. All three grinders do a lot of traveling; they are taken to job sites for grinding and also used in the company’s yard in Derry.

M-R Wood Recycling requires durable equipment because conditions on job sites can be very challenging. The terrain is rocky, Norm noted, which makes for tough work for the heavy equipment.

Norm summed up the typical land clearing job: "We pull stumps, shear ’em and grind ’em," he said.

Excavating machines, a mix of brands but mostly Hyundai, are fitted with shears supplied by Palleri or CBI to pull stumps. "They all take a beating," Norm said of the excavating and stump pulling equipment. "Wear and tear is high. It’s a very high maintenance operation — a lot of dirt, a lot of rocks."

Even so, the downtime for M-R Wood Recycling is very limited, according to Norm, because the company performs all its own maintenance. The company has a shop at its Derry facility that includes welding capabilities, and mechanics also travel to job sites for maintenance and repairs.

The company usually hauls wood back to its 16 acre site at Derry for grinding. Sometimes wood is separated by species; for the most part, the company sorts out hardwood and softwood material.

It is difficult to estimate the optimum output of one of the CBI grinders, said Norm, because they are fed such a variety of wood material. The CBI grinders really get a work out, he observed, processing different species of wood, types of wood (logs, limbs and stumps), and running in different weather conditions.

Dust and heat were big factors this year, according to Norm, and the company had to make some adjustments in its operations. This year’s summer was unusually hot and dry, and the wood was particularly dry as a result. Grinding created more dust than usual. Radiators and filters had to be cleaned much more frequently. The heat was "hard on men, hard on machines," said Norm.

Norm does not like the heat, particularly extreme heat, because of the stresses it puts on the business. Yet he and his brothers and the employees deal with it as necessary and keep the business on track. On the day when Norm talked with TimberLine, the temperature in New Hampshire soared to 100 degrees.

Nevertheless, there are days when all the equipment and all the company’s operations go without a hitch. Norm enjoys those days, but he is also always prepared to overcome a snag.

His family partners share the can-do philosophy Norm exudes. Common goals and a strong work ethic contribute to harmony at M-R Wood Recycling. So does the motivation of the 11 employees. "Anyone I hire has to have multiple skills," said Norm. "Everybody that works for us can do two or three or four different things."

That kind of versatility among employees is a must, said Norm, because there is a lot of equipment and many different jobs to be done. Workers must be able to cross over from one task or machine to another without missing a beat. It all works, said Norm, because "it’s a close family operation," and "the people who work for us are very close to us." Individuals that join the company understand that "employees are there to make things happen." M-R Wood Recycling operates all year on a six-day week, 12 hours a day.

Adding colored mulch as a way of generating more revenue has been a significant boost to the company. "With coloring of mulches, it give us ability to work year ‘round," said Norm.

As much as Norm believes in hard work, he does not believe in doing the work the hardest way — an important distinction. For example, he was prompted to try InterStar mulch colorant because of something he heard from a colleague. "Someone said, ‘You should try this product, I’m having good luck with it,’ " explained Norm. He was interested enough to travel to Quebec to visit InterStar and learn more about the company and its product. He liked what he learned, and decided to start using it.

InterStar’s service has been "a big plus," said Norm. InterStar realizes that when he orders colorant, he needs it right away, and it has been "very helpful and accommodating," said Norm. Once when he ran out of colorant because of high production, InterStar got him a shipment faster than he thought possible. Norm is confident that he can get the company’s product when he needs it. At one point InterStar was ready to send him a partial order so that he would not have any lapse in production while he waited for his complete shipment.

Producing mulch and colored mulch are not the mainstays of the business, but the operations are important. "For us, it’s a fill-in," said Norm. "We’re a small mulch producer." This year the company will produce about 125,000 cubic yards, he estimated.

M-R Wood Recycling uses a combination of trucks it owns and contract haulers to move material from job sites to its Derry facility and deliver mulch.

Besides the 16 acre yard at the Derry location, there is a 6,000-sq.-foot building for shop and office space, and there are plans to purchase some adjoining acreage.

When Norm gets time away from the business, he likes to snowmobile in the winter and ride his motorcycle in the summer. But he does not get a break from work very often. That does not concern him, he said, because he is following the recommendations of his father. Marshall advised his sons to "work hard," adding that "some day it will pay off," said Norm. And Norm does not feel that he needs a lot of time for recreation now because he and his brothers are building for the future.


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