“Local support” has been a rallying cry across the country during the pandemic. In Nova Scotia, that means shopping the weekend at the farmer’s market, raising a cup of craft beer and shelling out for locally caught seafood.
But where local support seems to come to a screeching halt is in the forests. For many, it seems, wood products do not fall under the “locally grown and processed” category.
It’s an issue the province’s logging industry has been grappling with since the 2020 announcement of the closure of Northern Pulp, based in Pictou, Nova Scotia, a key player in the logging industry as a major consumer. low quality wood.
Without an alternative to the revenue that Northern Pulp provides to logging contractors and woodlot owners, forestry in Nova Scotia is becoming a much smaller industry with fewer and fewer players.
The co-owners of a 21-year-old Nova Scotia forestry company, Next Generation Forest Management (Next Gen), have seen many forestry contractors quietly downsize, repossess equipment or auction off equipment and close shop . It’s a reality that Calvin Archibald, 77, and Mark Bannerman, 45, hope their company’s experience, reputation and work ethic will see them through.
Next Gen was born in 2001 as a handshake agreement between Archibald and Bannerman. Archibald had just handed over the keys to his first forestry business, owned with his brother, to his sister-in-law. Intending to retire, he suggested a new venture with Bannerman as his retirement plan. But forestry and agriculture are in Archibald’s DNA, so 21 years later he’s still there, tending to Next Gen books and negotiating contracts.
The company’s succession plan has always been for Bannerman, a University of New Brunswick forestry graduate, to grow the property through what Archibald calls “work equity.” This work ethic is what has grown Next Gen’s reputation in the industry, he says.
Next Gen began with a focus on commercial thinning, which was a harvesting method rarely used in Nova Scotia at the time. The company’s 2001 Timberjack 1270C wheeled harvester and Rottne forwarder were working in a province full of feller bunchers and processors.
“I didn’t really know what we were getting into. I didn’t have a lot of mechanical experience, that’s for sure. But it was an opportunity and something to try, so we went for it,” Bannerman said. “There were a few…but few contractors had wheeled machines. Most have been tracked.
The company has grown over the years, buying new, but mostly used, equipment to help keep costs down.
Like many entrepreneurs, it was a family business. Bannerman’s father, Donnie, ran a hauler for Next Gen for 18 years, retiring three years ago at age 70. His wife, Selena, also did forestry and mapping for the company for a few years before returning to school to get an education. diploma.
Today, Next Gen is one of the largest contractors in the province with eight operators and one mechanic on the payroll. They use six harvesters daily – a Ponsse Ergo and three Fox, a Komatsu 901 and a John Deere 1170 – as well as two John Deere 1510 forwarders. A spare Fox harvester and a 1510 forwarder are used as needed.
Bannerman quickly jumps into a machine for the day if necessary. “I work a few shifts to replace. If someone is absent, sick or if we are between employees, I will try to make sure that the machines are not broken,” he says.
A senior Next Gen employee for 19 years, Grant MacDonald is an important part of the company. Grant went from full-time operator mechanic and parts manager.
Next Gen produces an average of about 90,000 cubic meters per year, much of which is kindling of about 0.06 pieces. Most of their stud lumber goes to Scotsburn Lumber and the pulp to Port Hawkesbury Paper in Cape Breton.
Transition of forestry practices
Nova Scotia is also going through an overhaul of forestry practices. The province’s stated goal is to revamp forest management, prioritizing conservation and biodiversity through low-impact harvesting. The new forestry practices guide is based on a 2018 report by William Lahey, president of the University of King’s College in Halifax, which recommended forestry practices that would balance environmental, social and economic goals.
As a trained forester, Bannerman says he supports the findings of the Lahey report. “Our operators have the skills to implement any type of treatment, as long as it is economical,” he says.
But an inherent contradiction in government policies is that prioritizing biodiversity and returning to higher quality Acadian trees requires the elimination of lower quality pulpwood.
“When the pulp mill was there, you could go into a woodlot and pay a decent stumpage for the low-grade species. If you were doing a thinning job and there was pulp, you knew you could get rid of it. Now a lot of that is just being left behind or uncut in many parts of the province,” Bannerman says.
Similarly, biomass harvesting is generally uneconomical and has few large-scale customers in the province.
Prior to Northern Pulp’s closure, much of Next Gen’s work consisted of commercial thinning for the pulp mill. Now the company performs a variety of harvest treatments primarily for Wagner Forest Management based in Truro, Nova Scotia.
“We have had little change in our employees. We were lucky to find work. Eighty percent of our harvest is for Wagner and we still operate a few private woodlots,” Bannerman says.
A continued strength for Next Gen has been their Operators. Over the years, while many entrepreneurs have struggled to recruit and retain operators, Next Gen has only had to fill a few seats.
“Operators are what keep us going, they’re the main reason we’re still in business,” Bannerman says. “We try to work as close to home as possible. We can balance the shifts or maybe work an hour less a day so they can come home on time. And we’re pretty flexible if people need time off.
Harvester operator Duncan Cameron has been using forest machines for 16 years, mostly with Next Gen.
“For me now, there’s a good work-life balance,” Cameron says. “I think that goes for everyone here, if they need a day off or you have to be somewhere you can take it. There is no big problem.
Next Gen also has a few younger operators. Archibald thanks the Canadian Woodlands Forum for supporting Atlantic Canada’s entrepreneurial communities and helping to attract and train young operators.
Archibald says he sees a future for Next Gen, but it all depends on whether or not there will be a healthy future for forestry in Nova Scotia.
“We named it Next Generation on purpose,” he says. “Many forestry companies have one or two generations at the most. We wanted an organization that would last beyond our generation and also the generation of the trees.
But some things are just beyond their control. A recent economic study shows a dramatic decline in Nova Scotia’s forest industry in recent years.
“A lot of people just don’t understand the logging industry,” says Bannerman. “Our forests are a renewable resource that can provide badly needed jobs and government revenue, especially after the pandemic. It does not appear that recent governments publicly support forestry. They should have worked more closely with forestry companies to create markets and ensure a strong industry after the closures of Northern Pulp and Bowater.
Bannerman and Archibald note that forest responders need to do a lot more to educate the public, and that will take work.
“Forestry workers tend to put their heads down and go to work to support their families. They don’t publicly defend the industry. We need more of this, but most aren’t comfortable doing it, myself included. I’m not an outspoken person,” Bannerman says.
It’s hard to rally when entrepreneurs feel more than a little defeated in the province, says Archibald. But Next Generation is the name, and the company has positioned itself to weather this storm.
“We successfully service used equipment, and you combine that with our ability to negotiate and the top notch reputation of Mark and our team. . . we will be here for a while,” says Archibald.