Eight-wheel Ponsse Ergo Harvester Is the Tough, Nimble Machine Northland Harvesting Needs

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Michigan logger has relied on Ponsse equipment since inception of his business in 2000.

NEWBERRY, Michigan – Traversing everything from rolling – sometimes steep – hills to tamarack swamps is just part of the routine for the team at Northland Harvesting. So it’s great to have a harvester that can maneuver well in any type of terrain, explained Brand, the president of Northland.

“We get into a lot of tough country,” said Brand. That’s why he has two Ponsse Ergo 8W harvesters on his equipment roster. He explained he appreciates the stability of the machine, which is matched by performance.

And performance of Ponsse equipment is something about which Brand knows a great deal. In 2000, he launched Northland Harvesting with a Ponsse Cobra harvester, an eight-wheel machine. “I put 16,000 hours on it,” he said. “I ran it until three years ago. It was just a really reliable, nice machine.”

Indeed, if the initial purchase of a Ponsse harvester 13 years ago was somewhat fortuitous, the decision to stay with Ponsse has been deliberate. “A friend of mine had purchased a [Ponsse Cobra],” said Brand. “I was trucking some wood for him. He was really pleased with it.”

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Consequently, when Brand decided he had wearied of trucking, which was not conducive to family life, he bought a new Ponsse Cobra to start his logging business. He worked then, as he has since, with the team at Ponsse North America Inc. in Rhinelander, Wis. (Ponsse Oyj., a publically traded company, is headquartered in Vierema, Finland.)

Today, in addition to two Ponsse Ergo 8W harvesters, and one six wheel Ponsse Ergo, Brand relies on two Ponsse Buffalo forwarders. In addition, the company has a Fabtek forwarder, two dump trucks, a dozer, excavator, and a motor grader. Dirt equipment is John Deere and Komatsu.

Cutting stumpage for private landowners takes Northland Harvesting into predominantly mixed hardwoods for approximately 70 percent of work. “There’s always a component of conifers,” explained Brand. All species are cut and destinations of lengths encompass paper mills, sawmills and specialty mills.

Seeking to extract the most value from fiber, Brand added a contract hand cutter to his team three years ago. “For years, we didn’t use a chain saw,” he said. But there is some high value wood that has even higher value if it is felled in a way that leaves not a mark. The contract cutter uses a Husqvarna saw.

“I have a full-time forester, [who is] a big asset,” said Brand. Joining the team two years ago, the forester brings 30 years experience in the industry, including work for Mead and then, New Page.

“All my guys are top shelf,” said Brand, who has 11 fulltime employees. “Dave Maeder, the guy I hired to run a forwarder when I bought the [Ponsse Cobra] runs a harvester [now].

Relationships matter to Brand. He invests in his workers and they stay – many for six, eight or more years.

And that includes relationships with vendors. “A good partner is the way I describe [Ponsse],” he said.

Ponsse understands that he cannot have downtime, said Brand. “The parts availability and the service” Ponsse provides are excellent. Any issues are taken care of right away.

Members of the Ponsse team have proven themselves again and again, said Brand. They are “knowledgeable” and they are action oriented. One salesman donned coveralls and took out a tool kit at a Northland jobsite to help with an O-ring repair.

One facet of investing in workers is making certain they have the best equipment, said Brand. For example, the two late-model Kenworth tractors he uses for hauling wood were purchased for comfort and reliability.

Training also helps with worker retention. Everyone is well trained and expectations for doing the job correctly prevail.

When Brand purchased his first harvester, he had no experience with a harvester. For four days, he got training from Ponsse at his work site and then, follow-up visits. That trainer, Pekka Ruuskanen, is now the President of Ponsse North America. “These people really understand logging,” said Brand of Ponsse.

Today, Brand focuses on managing the business. He does fill in if needed, but he no longer runs a harvester every day.

Ponsse offers several heads with its Ergo model. The Ponsse H6 is a general purpose head. The smaller Ponsse H5 is built for thinning and the H7 for regeneration felling.

Until Ponsse introduced its eight-wheel Ergo harvester to the market, Brand was using three six-wheel Ergos. Eight wheels are a better fit for his operation, he said.

With eight wheels, the Ergo exerts less pressure per square unit of surface area, which means that it has less of an impact on the ground it crosses. That’s a significant plus for the environment.

Stewardship of resources is something Brand takes seriously. “I’ve logged since I was 18 years old,” said Brand, who is now 42.

When Brand was studying sales and marketing at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., he worked for an urban tree care company. After college, he tried fulltime tree care and then fulltime trucking before settling on logging as a profession.

At age 15, while still in high school, Brand was working in the woods, splitting firewood manually and selling it to make money. He has stayed on the logging and trucking side of the industry with a relatively recent exception.

“A couple of years ago, I bought a small Wood-Mizer [LT40] hydraulic sawmill,” said Brand. “I enjoy making sawdust.” That was a joke. He actually produces lumber, which has made its way into several building projects around the shop, as well as an outhouse. The outhouse is quite an elaborate one with gables and windows.

“I swore off trucking for a few years,” said Brand. He got back into it because he realized he “had to have some control of moving loads.” That was a hard lesson learned when contract haulers did not show up as scheduled.

Most jobsites for Northland Harvesting are within a 40-mile radius of its home base in Newberry, Mich., which is in the eastern part of the Upper Peninsula. Newberry is the seat of Luce County.

Brand is board member of the Michigan Association of Timbermen and he won the organization’s Excellence in Logging award in 2011. He is vice-chair of the Michigan Association of Timbermen Self-Insurance Fund and a member of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. Members of the team at Northland Harvesting are certified in the Michigan Master Logger program.

Involvement with professional organizations is an integral part of being a member of the industry, said Brand. “We have to take care of our industry,” he explained. “You have to give back to the industry that gives to you.” A portion of that giving back involves getting out and helping those outside the industry to understand the timber industry.

Brand’s wife Rebecca, who is a registered nurse with a fulltime job, helps him out by handling payroll and bookkeeping. Married for 20 years, Brand explained that Rebecca’s understanding of his business, especially the cycles, has made it much easier for him to persevere.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears” in running a business, said Brand. The path now for new loggers is “not an easy one” given the capital investment required and the long hours.

Unpredictability in markets has always been a factor. Today, there is also the tight credit market. “[A logger] must have a good relationship with lenders,” said Brand.

Cultivating positive interaction along the chain of industry is a must. “I got it from my dad,” said Brand. “You build loyalty.” That is loyalty with the buyers of products, vendors, creditors, land owners and employees. “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” he continued.

“I emphasize a team environment,” said Brand. Employees at Northland Harvesting work 50-hour weeks in summer and 60-hour weeks in winter. “Employees take ownership of what they do. We have very little turnover.” At monthly safety meetings Brand even cooks for his crew. “I want them to understand how much I appreciate their hard work,” he said.

Brand can depend, too, on his Ponsse machines as well as the Ponsse team that stands behind them “The relationship with them” keeps him returning to Ponsse, said Brand.

The interplay between efficiency and weight relationship is one on which Ponsse has long focused. Treading as lightly as possible on substrate, the Ponsse Ergo 8W harvester has a pulling force that is 14 percent greater than the six-wheel Ergo. In notably rough terrain, there is the option of adding balanced bogies to the Ergo to boost hill climbing capacity.

Ponsse has been manufacturing and engineering cut-to-length equipment for more than 40 years. Brand appreciates Ponsse’s commitment to technology advancement and their willingness to work with their customers as they pursue ongoing innovation.

The right equipment is as important to Northland Harvesting as the right people, explained Brand. And he has both. It’s a matter of “putting all the pieces together” and it takes time.

“Now that this organization is what it is” a break is possible now and then. “Last year was the first vacation my wife and I have been on in 10 years,” said Brand. The couple spent two weeks in Alaska with Brand confident his team could be trusted to carry on as they would if he were on site.

In free time, Brand likes to hunt and fish at camp with his wife and children. “My wife is an outdoors person,” he said.