Changing climate & cautious optomism

Reality differs sharply with the ongoing blather of the media’s “crisis de jour,” particularly in business where one’s whining gives their competition a significant edge, especially if they (unlike congress and the Obama administration) are concentrating on solutions and figuring out how to work best with the given circumstances we face every day not only to survive but to thrive. Solutions pay, whining and complaining can be very expensive and a major distraction. Higher taxes, the tsunami of regulatory over-reach, gun hysteria, and the pending mess of Obamacare, like it or not, must be dealt with and made the best of. The sooner one adjusts, adapts, and moves to solution mode in dealing with the issues of the moment, the sooner you move ahead of your competition. That’s why capitalism works.... Duh.

Just over five years ago, as our national and world economy charged towards financial calamity (that we’ve since managed to survive) we heard a series of economists’ forecasts, which essentially painted the same future: a financial crash like none had seen since the great depression. Second, that unlike the previous economic cycles (with a steep crash, followed by a similarly sharp recovery), this recovery instead would be long and gradual, which has demonstrably come to pass as well.

It’s been a sharp reminder to the private business sector that sound business practices, which include holding reserves, controlling spending, trimming expenses, acting quickly and decisively when you see the climate changing. Those of you still working and contractors still in business are here precisely because you knew your business, your expenses, your crew, machinery and the business expertise to weather this storm, regardless of its’ length, as we now emerge towards the improving business climate.

Today’s surviving logging contractors, and their crews have emerged leaner, meaner, more versatile towards their customer base, and finding themselves with work scheduled ahead for more than a year in many cases. We’re hearing this same optimism, albeit cautious optimism, all over the country.

The majority of contractors we talked with throughout the country, and most recently at the Associated Oregon Loggers Annual Meeting, noted 2012 had been more profitable than they’ve seen in several years, and that 2013 was looking even better. This is not to say everyone’s rolling in money...far from it, however the climate’s changed not only in the tone and tenor of conversation but in longer contracts, and several contractors noting they’re seeing a long overdue increase in logging rates, not from the “generosity” of anyone, but from the simple law of supply and demand: there are fewer contractors, and fewer loggers, than there were 20 years ago. Certainly automation and technology have had an effect on the workforce, but at the end of the day the measure is in production, quality and safety, but all of that said, there are fewer loggers, and fewer logging companies.

A logging company is not machinery; it is the quality of the crew.

As the fabric of the industry continues to evolve the real challenge presented from the past several years of turmoil comes as business continues to climb out of this hole and starts to ramp up production in answer to public demand for product. That means updating machinery, hiring and replacing tomorrow’s workforce, and maintaining the public license to manage our natural resources for multiple use.

All the planning, studying, and forecasting are incidental without someone competent, qualified, and prepared to actually perform on the ground, and produce product.
A vertical tree has any number of positive attributes. We grow them faster and better than anyone else in the world, but when it’s horizontal the resource is transformed into product and cash.

Regardless of who owns and manages the land, the majority of the cash that drives the industry is generated from the array of products they can yield from delivering products the public wants. At the base of that economic chain is logging’s harvest, maintenance, and expertise on those forests.

COFE... well done and worthwhile

This is not a typographical error, but stands for Council of Forest Engineering, whose purpose is to disseminate technical information and innovations in forest engineering. The Western Regional COFE holds an annual seminar in January, which we’ve attended the last few years to get a preview of trends and developments that help loggers, and land managers to do a better job.

The past several years this meeting is held the day prior to the Associated Oregon Loggers Annual Meeting at the Valley River Inn in Eugene, Oregon, an ideal way for AOL attendees to see some new and improved ways of doing an even better job.

Amongst the presentations of particular note was the “Opportunities for improving the efficiency of log hauling operations” presented by Rob Jokai of FP Innovations out of B.C. Canada. While he began showing pictures of some three drive axle log truck configurations in BC the thrust of the presentation centered on economies of driver training and awareness of driving habits that can lead to significant fuel economy. They enlist not only training but technology such as onboard computers, specifically their FPDat monitoring solution and FPFuel electronic fuel meter. He noted that with training and driver habits, “...the differences between drivers, can be up to 30%,” a change that you can take to the bank.

In the same vein (and we’ve seen a lot of talk on this the past year), unnecessary idling has a significant impact on fuel costs as well. “Every hour of idling wastes about one gallon of fuel,” Jokai noted, “and increases your maintenance costs.” With several trucks, and over the course of a year, the impacts changed behavior through awareness is significant.

There were several presentations, all of them well done, technical and practical and worth your while. Give some consideration to knowing this group, and taking advantage by attending if it’s available to you. To learn more check out their web site at: http://www.cofe.org/.