Produce Business Adds Firewood Sales

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Multitek Processor helps Fresh Pack profit from firewood on its Tennessee farm

ATLANTA — Fresh Pack knows a lot about perfect fits. When owner David Creeley researched the ideal location for tomato farming, he found it in far western Tennessee. That region of the Volunteer State is an excellent match in terms of soil conditions, rainfall, temperature, and growing season.
“Our main business is tomatoes, growing and packing,” said Dale Cooper, manager for Fresh Pack, which is headquartered in Atlanta. The company’s produce is grown in Evansville, Tenn.
Three years ago, David decided to add firewood sales to the company’s operations. The company processes and packages firewood — sold under Fresh Pack label — in the off-season, from October through February.
When David decided to enter the firewood business, not surprisingly, he also did a lot of research into firewood processing equipment. He used the Internet and talked to people who owned and operated the equipment.
Ultimately, he decided to purchase a Multitek model 2040XP-90 firewood processor, made by Multitek Inc. in Prentice, Wis. He chose the Multitek for many reasons, including production volume.
The choice of the Multitek 2040 has proven to be a good one, said Dale. “It’s real easy to use,” he said.
Fresh Pack uses firewood logs felled from the company’s 700-acre farm. The company removes standing dead trees and other cull timber with a Barko tree saw purchased at auction. Most of the timber is oak and hickory, and the trees that are removed for firewood generally are no more than 4 inches in diameter.
The Multitek 2040XP-90, designed for high volume production, bucks the logs to 16-inch pieces and splits them. Two men are used in the firewood processing operations. The split wood is bagged by hand, with five or six pieces in each bundle. In November, Fresh Pack had already produced 200,000 bundles of firewood for the coming winter season.
The Multitek 2040XP-90 is equipped with an infeed shuttle grapple carriage. The grapple seizes the log and pulls it into the chain saw cutting station – efficiently handling even crooked wood. “It’s more automatic than other machines,” said Dale. “It’s very efficient, the way it handles the logs.”
At peak capacity, the Multitek 2040XP-90 is built to produce two and one-half to three and one-half cords of firewood per hour.
Another important attribute of the machine is its ability to handle low-grade logs, said Dale.
The firewood processor is set up in a barn, and the logs are moved inside with a John Deere skidder. Husqvarna and Stihl chain saws are used for trimming limbs.
For now, the slash generated from harvesting the trees is left in the woods for matting, but Fresh Pack is looking into the feasibility of transforming it to a value-added product, such as mulch.
Fresh Pack employs 30-40 people year-round. The firewood crews work seven days a week in the October to February interval. “There’s a demand” for the wood, said Dale.
Fresh Pack sells the firewood wholesale to chain retailers. Each bundle is equipped with a handle for easy pick-up and handling by consumers.
The Multitek model 2040XP-90 can split wood into four, six or eight ways, thanks to interchangeable wedges and a floating, vertically adjustable splitter head. The flexibility allows the machine to produce firewood split to different thicknesses and to process logs of varying diameters.
The Multitek model 2040XP-90 can handle logs up to 40 feet long, which is the maximum length of the log deck. It can cut and split wood from 3 inches to 20 inches in diameter. Cycle time is 3.5 seconds. The standard engine on the Multitek is an 80 hp John Deere turbo-charged diesel.
The Multitek 2040XP-90 has several safety features. For example, a blower removes saw chips, reducing the risk of fire. If the operator gets up from the seat of the cab, power to the splitter automatically is shut off.
Multitek offers a long list of options for companies with special requirements in firewood processing. They include a cab enclosure that can be heated or air-conditioned, joystick controls, floodlights, cab stereo system, deck extension, anti-vandalism kit and more. An optional electric ‘bang board’ is also available for close tolerance cutting, which is important for firewood packaging businesses.
Fresh Pack added a second firewood processing machine a year ago. The two machines run side by side. “We generally run both at the same time,” said Dale. With both machines operating, Fresh Pack produces about 7,000 bundles of firewood per day, according to Dale. Production varies, depending on the weather and other conditions, such as the quality and condition of the logs.
Dale entered the wood products arena with no experience in wood products. “It’s all pretty interesting,” he said. “It’s pretty different from farming.”
A native of Florida, Dale got involved in farming when he married. (His father-in-law was a farmer.) Eventually, he followed an employment opportunity to Tennessee.
The Evansville farm in southeast Tennessee is within 20 miles of the Mississippi River. Evansville is located just a few miles west of Dyersburg, a town of 16,000 that has long been a center for cotton and cottonseed oil.
Relying on its own fleet of trucks, Fresh Pack moves tomatoes to market in the summer and firewood in the winter. Its Tennessee location makes it a great hub from which to ship produce and firewood to markets. Tennessee borders eight other states (clockwise from the northwest corner: Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas.) The only other state that borders as many other states is Missouri.
Fresh Pack is a member of the Southeast Produce Council, and David is an active member. At a recent conference and trade show, for example, David co-authored a presentation with Phil Tybor, Ph.D. on “The Surge of Greenhouse Vegetables in the Marketplace.” The authors gave special attention to the flexibility that greenhouse growing provides to retailers and consumers as well as the benefits that growers derive.
When Dale takes a break from his job at Fresh Pack, he tries to get to the beach. In fact, he was going to take a few days at a beach in Florida over the Thanksgiving holiday, a getaway he was relishing. As much as he likes Tennessee, said Dale, there is just one negative: “It does not have a beach.”