WR White, Inc, Adapts To Changing Biofuel Market with Peterson 4300 Micro Chippers

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WR White, Inc., in Windsor, North Carolina, was already grinding chips for biofuel. Then the market changed, and the company’s main customer, Enviva, wanted micro chips. Bill White followed the market and added two Peterson 4300 micro chippers to meet the new demands of his market and grow his business at the same time

Bill White, vice president of WR White, Inc., in Windsor, NC, believes in biofuel. He was already grinding chips for pellets when the needs of his market changed, so he changed along with it. By adding two Peterson 4300 micro chippers he was able to meet the new demands of his market and grow his business at the same time.
White said that his company evolved from a previous venture that his father and his father’s brother owned.
“The company used to be White Brothers, Inc.,” he said. “They had a farming side and a logging side. My father ran the logging side and his brother ran the farming side.”
White worked on the farm as a young teen, but when he turned 18 he went to the woods.
“I started on the deck with a chainsaw, sawing up logs,” he said. “Then I ran a skidder.”
Nineteen years later, the company had grown and changed so that the older generation decided it was time to reorganize the business. The area around Windsor has a lot of pines and plenty of forest industry, which means lots of competition for the operation. It also means a good resource base for the company to operate from.
“In 2001, my father and my uncle divided the company,” White said. “The logging side went to my father, and they split the farmland in half and my brother got half of that. So we’re still a farming and logging company.”
Today, WR White, Inc. has a four-way ownership.
“There’s me, and my brother Steve, who does the farming,” White said. “My sister, Sue Cowan, is the secretary. My mother, Mary Rose White, is the boss.”
White said it’s too soon to know whether or not his children will follow the family tradition and get into the forestry business.
“My son Curtis is interested but he’s too young yet,” White said. “He doesn’t want to do his school work so he’s probably going to have to do something like work in the woods. I also have a daughter, but she wants to be a school teacher.”
At the time of the 2001 reorganization, White was debarking hardwoods and clean chipping for International Paper in Franklin, Virginia.
“We were using a shovel chipper,” he said. “They call it shovel logging with a clean chip. That’s cutting swamp timber like Bobby Goodson on the Discovery Channel. You use a track loader back in the woods on tracks to get the wood out of the swamp, and you make roads out of the wood out of the trees. That’s called shovel logging. We were cutting pretty much all hardwoods at the time.”
Back in those days, White said, he used Peterson equipment.
“I had a Peterson debarker and chipper,” he said. “So I had some history with them before I bought the equipment I have now.”
In the past twelve years, WR White, Inc has grown from a single crew to three crews, and from just swamp logging to a diversity of operations.
“I have eleven employees in the woods and I have four truck drivers,” White said. “We can do about anything now. We thin pines and we clear cut. And we still shovel log. I divide my guys and my equipment up to do whatever we need to do.”
One way he continues to make a profit, White said, is to have good help and take care of them.
“I try to pay my help better than anybody else does,” he said. “We also provide health insurance on the employees and they can purchase it for their family members at a reduced price if they want to. I pay two bonuses a year depending on the company profits, one at Christmas time and one at the 4th of July.”
In recent years, WR White, Inc. has added fuel chipping to its suite of operations.
“I don’t remember what year International Paper in Franklin closed down, but that’s when we started fuel chipping,” White said. “That’s also when we started thinning pines again. We do contract logging; I have a timber buyer who buys timber for me. We cut hardwoods and Carolina pines on private land.”
Last year White saw the market for chips changing from the fuel chips he had been cutting to much smaller chips. He traded in his fuel chipper for the two Peterson 4300 micro chippers, so he could grind chips for Enviva Pellets in Ahoskie, North Carolina.
The Peterson 4300 micro chipper is a drum chipper suited for high volume biomass use. It will take logs up to 24 inches in diameter as well as brush and small wood. It’s powered by a C18 Caterpillar engine and is available in two power ratings. It’s small enough to be transported without any need for oversize permits.
White said the chipping process—whether using his former chippers or the micro chippers—not only helps clean up the woods after a logging operation is finished, but also makes use of trash wood that otherwise has no value.
“We either thin or clear cut the pines on a stand,” he said. “Then we chip the small hardwood tops and non-marketable hardwoods of all species. We take it back to the deck and chip it there. Then we blow it into a closed top chip van and the van takes it to Enviva.”
White said one reason he decided to switch from the fuel chippers he had been running to the Peterson micro chippers was that Enviva was offering a better price on the smaller chips.
“Plus, it’s right close to my home,” he said. “I like to keep my trucks close to home. Trucking eats up a lot of money if you have to haul too far. So I try to stick to close hauls; I usually keep trips under 40 miles.” He also tries to maintain that 40 mile limit when it comes to cutting timber, he said.
When White made the decision to trade in his existing equipment and move to the Peterson 4300 micro chippers, he took advantage of what he already knew about the company’s equipment.
“We had just seen a demonstration on the equipment,” he said. “It looked like it was good equipment, and that it would be productive enough for me to make a profit with it. So far it’s working out well for us.”
White’s decision wasn’t based just on the profitability of the micro chips themselves. He also was trying to stay within that 40 mile limit he has set for himself.
“Staying on local hauls like that has probably increased my profits even more,” he said. “There is a little bit of increased cost with micro chipping because you have to have more knives in the chipper to maintain the same amount of production achievable with the normal chippers. But it’s still been more profitable for me, even with that increased cost.”
Regular maintenance on the chipper knives is done with a Bevel Buddy from Precision Sharpening Devices. “The Bevel Buddy is a portable knife sharpener that lets you sharpen your knives inside the chipper,” he explained. “It is a great help to be able to re-sharpen knives right in the chipper versus having to change them out, which takes about an hour.” White indicated that in certain circumstances he has been able to produce fifty loads of chips on a single set of knives, by performing the three recommended sharpenings with the Bevel Buddy.
When he added the two Peterson chippers, White said that he didn’t need to make any adjustments or changes to them at all. He went to work with them the first day, with no problems or hiccups.
“The first day they were on the job we were sending chips to Enviva,” he continued. “The only difference between what we were doing before and what we’re doing now, is that now, we are producing smaller chips. That’s what Enviva wants; they say they can run the smaller chips through their mill faster, and get better production in the mill.”
White assured that he makes a point of knowing what his customers want and is committed to being first to meet that demand.
“When I know something has changed, I try to get in there as quick as I can,” he said. “With the micro chips, it was a matter of knowing that somebody was going to do it and being sure it was me.”
Now that he’s been running the Peterson 4300s for a while, White stated, he’s satisfied with the job they’re doing.
“Peterson makes real reliable equipment,” he said. “And when we’ve had an electrical issue or a computer question, whenever there is something that has to be handled by somebody that knows more than I do, we just call them. They’re always right by the phone.”
White went on to say that he really appreciated Peterson’s quick turn-around on parts when he needs them. Peterson can take advantage of their Eastern Distribution Center (EDC) to get parts to him by the next day.
“They have the capability to ship parts overnight from the factory in Oregon, or their Eastern parts distribution warehouse in South Carolina,” White stated. “Peterson’s parts distribution response time is excellent. I can come in from the woods after work, call Peterson to order a part, and they get it out the same day. The part arrives in the morning in time for the next day’s work,” he continued.
Over the next five years, White hopes to see WR White, Inc. continue to hold its own in the forest industry.
“I’d like to continue to make a profit and make a good living,” he said. “I’ve thought about trying to expand, but I don’t want the stress of spreading myself too thin.”
In the long run, however, growth may be on the horizon.
“I’d like to expand a little bit if I could find some good help,” White noted. “I would probably just expand this operation to some more mills. If we could keep local hauls going, and work close to mills, we could keep the cost of logging down and make money.”
White believes the biomass fuel industry is an industry whose time has come.
“I would say the industry is going to stay about the same for a while,” he said. “It’s probably going to get some competition from natural gas but if they stop fracking it will change. I think there’s a future in wood energy.”
The best thing about working in the woods, White expressed, is being outdoors. Then he tempered that with a good-natured nod to the vagaries of the weather in North Carolina.
“The best thing is being outdoors on a good day,” he clarified. “I like being outside. I don’t like being inside if I can help it.”
White has an interesting hobby that he applies to his business. He flies an airplane over his work to manage the tracts; he can oversee timber volumes and species.
White uses his airplane as an effective marketing tool. White said, “I fly landowners over my thinnings to show them my work when we are through. I believe it helps get more work; if they like what they see they often want me to do more and will sometimes tell other landowners.
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