With harvest rates now falling significantly behind the current record log prices, Marlborough forest harvesting company Gale Contracting is continuing to be innovative and progressive and increasing efficiencies by mechanising as many of its operations as possible.
Gale Contracting is one of Marlborough’s most progressive forest harvesters, as one of the first in the region to get men off the chainsaws and start mechanised tree falling.
Gale Contracting General Manager Lee Perry says 97% of the company’s tree felling is now done by machine, and the company continues to invest heavily in technology.
Three of its four crews run winch assisted felling machines, using winches built by DC Equipment. “
This technology was pioneered in Nelson,” Lee says. “There are only a handful of systems like this in the world, and three of the four came from Nelson.” Mechanisation is critical for felling on the steep Marlborough slopes, some of which angle up to 45 degrees.
Gale Contracting’s cable assisted logging ensures safer methods and more environmentally sound means of extracting wood from remote and challenging terrains.
Each Gale Contracting crew is like an open air factory. Trees are cut down, extracted, then processed in the forest into merchantable logs.
Each crew sends between eight and 12 trucks a day to either the port, where logs are inspected then loaded onto ships for export, or to a processing mill, where logs are inspected and processed by the mill. 80% of logs harvested by Gale Contracting are exported.
Lee says the Government has promised to plant one billion tress this year in an effort to ramp up forest production, and along with wine, logs are one of the biggest export commodities to come out of Marlborough. Last year, approx. 1.8 million trees were planted in Marlborough alone.
Most of the contracts held by Gale Contracting are for forests with sustainable cut cycles, with each cycle 26 to 30 years long, and some forests now approaching their third cut cycle. One client has a sustainable harvest of 20,000m3 of wood for the next 10 years.
Lee says profit is a big topic in the forestry industry at the moment, as log prices have reached record highs and forest owners are receiving a higher return on their forests than they have done for many years.
“It’s slowly trickling through to the contractor, but predominantly harvest rates haven’t kept pace with the log prices,” he says.
“We have to make our business as efficient as we can. We create very little waste, and we make things efficient by mechanising as many operations as possible.”
Three years ago, Gale Contracting’s cable crews were nine-man crews, and they are now down to five-man crews due to the company’s uptake of mechanisation.
In September 2016, after 19 years in business, Gale Contracting outgrew its small lock up yard in an industrial unit and moved to a spacious yard on Mahers Road.
The following year a large workshop was constructed on-site, improving Gale Contracting’s ability to maintain its ever-growing fleet of equipment.
Growing its plant is still a less problematic undertaking than growing its staff, as Lee says there is a skill shortage in New Zealand’s forestry industry, and a massive shortage across the board in Marlborough, which happily boasts unemployment of only two percent.
Marlborough Boys College and Marlborough Forestry Industry Association have joined up to provide students with an introduction to forestry course at the school.
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