Director and CEO Gary Leslie and his wife Allison, established Northern Forest Products (NFP) in 1999, offering Northland clients a comprehensive harvest management and log marketing service. By 2001 Northern Forest Products diversified to include acquisition of forest blocks and for the last 15 years has operated a 100% forest and woodlot purchasing business model not only in Northland but throughout New Zealand.
One of the key reasons for the company’s success is the pre-agreed price with payment before trees are felled, which takes the risk out of the equation for the owner. Initially the supply chain was led by Kaeo Trans-port, owned by Gary’s father Stuart and Uncle Nigel who transported logs and built roads and skid sites.
They were a great help getting the business up and running as Gary could sign up forests knowing the wood would be shifted. Gary’s brother Marcus was NFP’s primary harvesting contractor and with younger brother Joseph in the mix too, it was initially a real family affair.
General manager Debbie Smith has worked for the company for over seven years and has seen developments in the company including establishing a comprehensive health and safety standard and establishing in-house verticals for harvesting and civil earthworks under a new entity, Trees Out Ltd. This works well and ensures everyone operates to the same standards of professionalism with the welfare of staff and expectations of the land-owner paramount.
“Gary decided it was time to show real leader-ship with safety,” says Debbie. “When I started he had five or more crews contracted, but getting the contractors to implement the higher standards was problematic and consequently contractor numbers were reduced,” says Debbie.
As a flow on from the company’s focus on lifting the bar with Health and Safety NFP won a national safety award in 2015, recognition of NFP’s initiative to encourage contractor engagement in Health and Safety. “This really gave us a boost and continuous improvements have been acknowledged through various Northland Forestry Awards to NFP and also Trees Out.
“What we have now is a close knit team that we have real confidence in. They understand the values that underpin NFP and take great pride in what they achieve together as a team.”Forest harvesting and management is increasingly complex with greater risk awareness across every level now.
Foreman of Trees Out Ltd forestry crew Matt Barr is passionate about the industry and has strong and clear views on the challenges facing the sector and potentially impacting on its future success.“It is extremely difficult to find and retain good forestry workers. “We are fortunate to now have an excellent team who work with me but that hasn’t always been the case,” says Matt.
“There’s this perception that anyone can do this work and that’s far from true. I’m operating a highly computerised log harvesting machine valued at $1.5million and every member of the crew has to be very skilled and able to perform a number of machine based operations.”These days there’s very little ‘man of the ground with chainsaw’ activity. That, in itself has contributed to a much safer work environment.Environmental standards have also improved as Matt explains
.“Before harvesting we go over the block and formulate how we will go about felling the trees. This is then lodged and consented with Council who have environmental standards we are required to meet in terms of impact on the land during and following harvesting.”
He is concerned about the lack of promotion of forestry being a professional career by school careers advisors. Matt wishes there was more promotion of the range of forestry based careers.“Massive tracts of land were put into forestry 20 – 30 years ago and these trees are coming on stream for harvesting, a process that is constantly taking place.
“We need to attract young people as they are the future of the industry. It’s a fantastic career. You can go anywhere in the world with forestry skills,” says Matt. When asked what he most enjoys about working in the forest Matt says every aspect of the job is challenging and enjoyable.
“When you are working with a team, each person dependent on everyone else, it’s very satisfying to look back and see what you have achieved. “It’s certainly not for everyone but if you enjoy using machinery and working in a team environment it’s a great job.”
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