DANBURY, Connecticut — If it’s spring and you’re in the mulch business, it’s time for grinding. And in the case of Percy Ferris and Ferris Mulch Products, it’s grinding with a new machine from Continental Biomass Industries (CBI). In March the company began running a new CBI 6800 track horizontal grinder at its Danbury, Connecticut headquarters, as it began gearing up for spring.
Percy Ferris runs the mulch business as well as an affiliated land-clearing contracting company, Total Landscaping & Tree Service. His companies now have three CBI horizontal grinders in addition to other CBI equipment.
“Consistency and quality are the name of game in the mulch business. Having the right equipment and keeping it maintained is critical to ensure mulch consistency,” said Percy. “From the various species of wood to the moisture content to the particle size, it all requires a quality focus, and we strive to be unmatched in our field.”
Looking to follow this same playbook in the future, the company is opening another facility in April in the neighboring town of Bethel. The new location will produce and sell mulch as well as house an office and expanded maintenance facilities. It will also offer additional landscape materials for wholesale as well as commercial customers. “We’re pretty excited about that,” said Percy.
The new facility will allow Ferris Mulch to grow and retain its focus on mulch quality. Percy explained, “Machinery and wear part maintenance is a big factor to keeping consistent product in the grinding process. What we do is very abrasive, especially when you are processing stumps and organic waste, regardless of the make and model of the grinder. And the new facility will improve our maintenance capabilities.”
Land Clearing Has Opened Up Business Opportunities
About half the business revenues come from land-clearing contracts and the other half from sales of mulch. The yard receives forest products, grindings, and chips from land-clearing projects as well as wood material from residential tree service companies, which pay a tipping fee.
Most of Percy’s land-clearing jobs are in western Connecticut, within about a 90- minute travel radius of Danbury, as well as in New York. About 70% of the projects are commercial in nature. Those jobs may include clearing land for commercial construction or industrial facility expansion, highways, general construction, and rightof- way for railroads or other projects. Jobs typically range from 2-25 acres. Other jobs are for residential construction projects, golf courses, farms, utility rights-of-way, restoring wildlife habitat, and removing storm debris. The land clearing work also provides raw material for the mulch and wood recycling operations, as well as a variety of other markets.
Both companies pursue a green strategy to improve the environment and prevent waste. Percy commented, “One hundred percent of the products we generate are recycled wood material. What we do every day helps improve the environment and contributes to the aesthetics and functionality of customer locations.”
Mulch Operations Rely on CBI
Ferris Mulch Products has developed a proven process that relies heavily on CBI equipment. Depending on the time of the year, all CBI equipment is located at the mulch facilities then relocated to land clearing projects as needed.
Percy met Aaron Benway and was introduced to CBI when he was investigating stump shears in the early 2000s. Now he has three of them along with his three CBI track horizontal grinders. His first CBI grinder was a model 6800 purchased in 2007, and he has added two more of them since then.
“We’ve had very good luck so far with our CBI machines,” noted Percy. “They have been solid machines for us.”
He has talked to other manufacturers over the years. “But we’ve had a good relationship with CBI. We’ve had good field support, and we’ve had very good luck with machine reliability, so we chose to stay with CBI.”
Percy likes the versatility of the CBI 6800 track grinders because they can process whole trees as well as stumps. It is a high-production machine. The 6800 has the right blend of features and performance including a metal detection system, variable speed conveyors and the machine weight keeps the company where it needs to be for transport purposes.
Percy stated, “We don’t have to sacrifice horsepower for weight with the CBI 6800. It still has the capacity for over 1,000 horsepower while meeting our weight requirements.”
The company’s newest machine features touch screen controls, which are now standard on CBI machines. Percy explained, “Touch screen displays make the machine simple to run and help us ensure consistency even when switching from one product to another.”
Percy added that he appreciated how helpful CBI’s staff has been in getting his company acclimated to the new technology. The staff of CBI, located in New Hampshire, has been “very accommodating to help us,” he stated.
Ferris Mulch also had the newest CBI grinder equipped with a cross-belt magnet to remove any metal contaminants from grindings.
The CBI 6800 model is designed specifically for use by land-clearing contractors, mulch producers, and wood waste recyclers that require a high volume of throughput. It is powered either by a Cat 1050 hp or 1125 hp diesel engine. The grinding chamber features a ‘clam shell’ opening to enable quick access and changes for screens and tips. The grinding chamber is a heavy-duty, reinforced housing with 100% continuous welds for maximum corrosion resistance, rigidity, and strength. The machine weighs less than 80,000 pounds so it can be transported safely and legally on a standard lowboy trailer.
All finished mulch is colored black, brown or red; about 80% of mulch is sold colored brown. For coloring, the company is equipped with a Sahara X3 colorizer and uses Greenville and BASF colorants.
(For more information on New Hampshirebased Continental Biomass Industries and its products, visit www.cbi-inc.com or call (603) 382-0556.)
Varied Mulch and Wood Fiber Markets
Ferris Mulch Products focuses on manufacturing mulch and similar landscape products, which can tend to be secondary considerations for some forest product companies. About 75% of the company’s mulch sales are wholesale and 25% are retail. Wholesale customers include landscape contractors, garden centers, and other commercial sales, like schools, condominiums and universities.
The company begins grinding operations in March to make mulch for the spring and summer seasons and continues through the end of June. July and August are busy months for supplying wood chip material to resurface playgrounds at schools, and business tapers off in the fall.
Ferris Mulch Products produces natural and colored landscape mulch, a certain type of playground mulch certified by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association, wood chips, and organic compost and screened topsoil. Wood material is used to make mulches while leaves and garden waste are used to produce organic compost and topsoil products.
The company currently employs 12 people, but as work increases in the spring and summer, that figure may grow to as many as 25 to include seasonal help.
Most wood material that is feed stock for grinding or chipping is processed onsite at a land-clearing project and hauled to the yard as primary material. At the yard, material is segregated into separate piles for further processing.
The company’s logging equipment includes a Timbco 425EXL track feller, a TimberPro 630 forwarder, and a Tigercat 630D skidder. Some excavators are equipped with Rotobec grapple saws for handling and bucking logs.
Getting the Highest Value Out of Every Piece of Wood
All logs are merchandised in order to maximize the value of the wood. In addition to mulch products, the company has markets for saw logs, pulp, firewood logs, and wood chips. Logs normally are processed on the land-clearing jobsites and marked and bucked to size according to the determined end uses. Rotobec grapple saws along with chainsaws are used in the bucking and delimbing processes. Saw logs are trucked directly to customers when possible, but sometimes hauled back to the company’s yard for temporary storage.
Tops, limbs, and roundwood suitable for chipping will be chipped on the jobsite with the company’s whole tree chipper, material being fed by Doosan and Caterpillar excavators. Some of the chips are used in the company’s mulch manufacturing operations and will be hauled back to the yard, but the company also has some other markets for chips, notably for boiler fuel.
Primary grinds are also done on site with one of the CBI machines, also fed by the Caterpillar and Doosan excavators. Back at the recycling yard, wheel loaders feed the grinders for second grinds, producing the company’s mulch and recycled wood products.
Ferris Mulch Products handles all trucking with five semi-tractors and five trailers. Having its own fleet enables the company to ensure timely delivery to customers and to operate more efficiently. It is another way that the company demonstrates its commitment to customer-focused, efficient business operations.
Background of Ferris Mulch & Prospects for the Future
Percy was introduced to forest products industry earlier in his life by his father who ran a portable sawmill as a hobby. Percy had helped him load logs with a John Deere backhoe and log tongs, and remove slab wood from the mill. Later while working as an electrician, Percy began his own landscaping and tree service business in 1989. It gradually grew to include landclearing services and later mulch production.
Ferris Mulch Products has a core of employees who have been with the company for 5-15 years. His wife, Beckie, staffs the office and handles all the clerical tasks. His son is involved in the business when he is not a student at Central Connecticut State University; Sean, 19, a construction management major, operates equipment. Percy’s daughter, Carley, will be graduating from Penn State University in May with a degree in nursing and plans to move to San Diego to further her career.
Percy is a supervising forest products harvester and a member of the Connecticut Professional Timber Producers Association. The company offers a 401(k) retirement plan for employees and provides paid holidays, vacation time, and a health insurance program. Percy commented on the importance of having reliable, dedicated employees in running a successful business, and stated that he greatly appreciates the consistent hard work of his team throughout the year.
In extending further appreciation, Percy said, “We also would like to thank our construction contractors for their loyalty in using our land clearing services, and our loyal customers who care about the natural products used to finish their landscapes.”
In his spare time Percy enjoys hunting and fishing as well trail running, mountain biking and other outdoor activities.
Business was good last year and already is showing signs of a big upswing in 2018, said Percy. “We feel pretty positive about the future as far as what we see at this point,” he said. The home construction market also is picking up, he reported.