With help from Morbark equipment, Bateman Logging Company continues going strong after 40 years.
Make no mistake about it: Ray Bateman has seen a lot of changes in his 40 years of logging. He’s seen scores of people come and go; he’s seen equipment become increasingly sophisticated; and, like most of his fellow loggers, he’s faced economic adversity and is grateful to have survived it. On that last point, he is quick to point out that survival for him has meant dealing with new markets and purchasing equipment designed to best serve those markets. Today his company, Bateman Logging, Inc. spends a good deal of its time chipping material for biomass customers as well as for other users. To make that happen, they operate an impressive fleet of chippers and support equipment, including a pair of Morbark 40/36 MicroChippers. Those who say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks have yet to meet Ray Bateman.
Hit the Ground Running
After dating his soon-to-be wife for three years and working for her father’s logging operation, Ray Bateman purchased the business and in 1978 established Bateman Logging Company.
“It helped that my father-in-law’s primary business included logging and hauling for Union Camp Paper — we just kept hauling to them when we took over,” he says. “That’s a luxury a lot of new companies don’t have. In those early days, we focused primarily on round wood — more general logging — but, as the demand for chips used in the paper-making process began to grow in the early ’90s or so, we started doing more of that type of work. Eventually, the mills set restrictions on how clean the chips had to be — currently, bark content has to be 1% or less — so we added a flail chipper in 1990 and have been using one ever since.”
Bateman’s company tries to stay within a 100-mile radius of its Edenton, N.C., office, generally working on land to which they’ve purchased the logging and clearing rights.
“Even that’s changed over the years,” says Bateman. “In the past, most of the land was owned by the paper mills, so if you had a contract with one of those mills, all you had to do was come onsite, do your job and leave. Today we have to secure the land through a broker, or get sealed bids, or get work through word of mouth, whatever. Plus, it is up to us to take care of things like building or maintaining access roads, providing our own mats, and so on. It’s a lot more involved.”
All About Fluff
Bateman Logging’s operation underwent something of a seismic shift in 2011 when two very different, yet loosely connected business decisions were made. Both events, however, impacted Bateman to such a degree that the company today is far different than the one operating pre-2011.
“The first major change involved International Paper announcing the re-opening of its plant in Franklin, Va.,” he says. “That plant had been idled for about a year and cost the area nearly 1,000 jobs. Though the new plant only employs a fraction of what the original one did, it was still great news for the area. The focus since re-opening has been on producing fluff pulp, a material used in personal paper products like disposable diapers. That process depends on a steady stream of chips from softer woods like pine, so we are one of their suppliers, sending up to 100 loads a week.”
To get the product to a size, cleanliness and consistency demanded by the plant, Bateman feeds whole trees into a Morbark 5500 Stand-Alone Flail, which debarks and de-limbs them prior to being fed to a Morbark Model 23 Chiparvestor. Material exits the unit as a roughly 3/4-inch to 7/8-inch chip, which is loaded and hauled for use by IP at its Franklin plant.
“That flail/chipper has been a very powerful and productive combination for us for a number of years now,” adds Bateman.
Mid-Atlantic Comes Alive
The second shot-in-the-arm for the region came in 2011 when Enviva, LP, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of processed biomass fuel pellets, began an expansion program that included opening a plant in Franklin, Va., as well as facilities in Ahoskie and Garysburg, N.C., all of which were within Bateman’s working area.
“That opened up an entirely new market for us and it’s paid off very well,” says Bateman. “Those plants are demanding consistently-sized ‘1/4-inch minus’ hardwood chips for fuel pellet production, and we get that from a pair of Morbark 40/36 Whole Tree MicroChippers. We’ve been using Morbark in almost every part of the operation steadily since 1990, so there’s no denying we have a high level of satisfaction with their products. But these MicroChippers have done exceptionally well for us.”
At the heart of each MicroChipper is Morbark’s Advantage 3™ high-performance chipping drum, which significantly improves chip quality in large-volume wood chipping operations like Bateman’s. The proprietary design also reduces recurring wear-part and maintenance costs by more than 70% when compared to costs associated with conventional chipping drums.
“That’s critical because the demand for pellet chips in this area is so high — we send up to 80 loads a week to those three plants as well — that downtime can be extremely costly to an operation like ours,” adds Bateman. “But we think the MicroChippers, even being pushed as hard as we push them, are some of the most reliable pieces of equipment we have.”
Status Quo is Fine
Despite his obvious recent success, Bateman says he is happy with the current size and direction of his company. With 23 full-time employees and an administrative staff that includes his wife, Teresa, and daughter, Kimberly, Bateman Logging is well-positioned to be competitive for years to come.
“Given all the chipping we are currently doing, things are going really well right now,” he says. “Thanks to our timber buyer, Kenny Allen, we have some very nice contracts in place that allow us to breathe a bit easier. And, because of the length of time we’ve been doing this type of work, we’ve made a name for ourselves in the area, which also helps at landing new business. But, as we’ve seen in the past, this industry can change in a heartbeat, so I think it would be foolish to overextend ourselves. We have been blessed to have the best foremen and employees; some of the best forestry, chipping and hauling equipment available; and some really solid relationships in the business. At my age, from a business perspective, what more can a guy can ask for?”