Ponsse, the Finnish manufacturer of cut-to-length logging machines with operations in North America, has signed two dealers in the Southeast, where it has a growing population of customers for its cut-to-length equipment.
The company will be represented by Equipment Linc in Maplesville, Alabama, and Knight Forestry in West Whigham, Georgia. They are Ponsse’s first dealers in the Southeast.
Stacy Wagler, Ponsse’s business development manager for its North American operations, chose Knight Forestry and Equipment Linc because it seeks “quality dealerships to represent us.”
“They have a really great business and work ethic that shares the same quality attitude that we have as far as customers being the number one priority,” said Stacy. “They emphasize customer satisfaction and taking care of their customers. And we share the same passion for a partnership relationship when they sell equipment.”
Ponsse already has customers in Alabama and Georgia and the surrounding region, so it was a natural fit to look for dealers in those states to forge a relationship with Ponsse. “Our fleet is growing very fast in those areas,” said Stacy, “and it is best to start with quality dealers and have them grow with the population of our customers.” Until now, those customers have been dealing directly with Ponsse staff at its North American headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
Ponsse has experienced growing sales in the Southeast and approached him about becoming a dealer for the company, said Tommy Moore, owner of Equipment Linc. The company is based in Maplesville in central Alabama and also represents other forestry equipment manufacturers. Equipment Linc has been in business since August 2017, although Tommy has many years of experience in the heavy equipment and forestry equipment industry.
Several loggers from other states with Ponsse cut-to-length machines came to the southern Alabama and Florida panhandle region to harvest storm-damaged timber after a hurricane several years ago. That piqued his interest in Ponsse, Tommy recalled.
“I’m very familiar with Ponsse,” said Tommy, “their reputation and the quality of their product.” Some loggers in the region use Ponsse harvester heads to process logs at a landing, and Equipment Linc has been providing service to loggers with Ponsse harvester heads since early 2000.
Jason Knight, owner of Knight Forestry, was approached by Ponsse officials about becoming a dealer after attending a couple of equipment demos. Knight Forestry is located in the southwest corner of Georgia, close to the Florida panhandle and southeast Alabama.
“They thought it would work really well in this part of the country, I believe it is the wave of the future,” said Jason.
“We were really impressed with the Ponsse equipment,” he added, “the quality of the (harvester) head that they build.”
“Ponsse has been around a long time,” noted Jason.
Ponsse has “done a really good job” in designing and building strong-performing and reliable harvesting equipment as well as promoting their equipment, said Tommy.
Jason and Tommy have known each other for years from being in the equipment business, and they represent some of the same manufacturers.
Ponsse has been promoting its H8 HD harvester head with a top saw for loggers in the Southeast. Ponsse introduced the model about four years ago, according to Hakan Berg, harvesting-processing head manager and specialist for Ponsse.
“The size of the head is a good fit for most of the loggers in the South,” said Hakan, “as far as tree size…It’s heavier than a standard H8 head.” The HD H8 harvester head can be mounted on track machines, he noted. It has a very accurate measuring system for log length and diameter and can delimb logs as fast as 18 feet per second.
“It also has a good control system and can really utilize the tree,” added Hakan.
The Ponsse H8 HD harvester head is a heavy-duty attachment with high power and excellent geometry for the toughest logging operations. The H8 HD is suited for felling and processing hardwood and softwood in difficult conditions. With a heavy-duty frame structure and efficient hydraulics that ensure a high level of performance and reliability, it is designed for hard use on track base machines.
The Ponsse H8 HD harvester head features a strong grip, powerful feeding, and fast sawing. The reinforced frame and tilt arm provide the robustness needed in tough operations. Wide feed roller geometry supports even large stems with feed rollers instead of delimbing blades; this enables using lower pressure on the knives, improving fuel economy and feeding speed as well as measuring accuracy. Optimal tilt pivot geometry minimizes the upwards torque of the head, providing smoother feeding and better grip of the tree.
The Ponsse H8 HD harvester head has a maximum opening of 29 inches and generates 225 pounds of feed force. It can be matched with a track carrier in the 20-30 ton range.
Ponsse recently did some demonstrations and testing of the H8 HD harvester head at Knight Forestry, noted Hakan. The harvester head doubled the production ratio of pine saw logs to pulpwood from 3-1 to 6-1, according to Hakan. The people who witnessed the tests were “blown away,” said Hakan. “They couldn’t believe it.”
Equipment Linc is in the process of undergoing training for various personnel in order to be able to sell and service Ponsse equipment. Some training is conducted online, and Ponsse personnel also travel to Alabama to conduct training. Ponsse is providing dedicated staff to the dealerships for sales training, operator training, and service training.
Mechanics employed at forestry equipment dealerships “already are very familiar with working on heavy equipment,” noted Stacy. “The learning curve isn’t that long to understand our equipment.” After mechanics are introduced to the equipment and learn the basics, Ponsse instructors follow up with a lot of hands-on training.
For the owner or operator, the Ponsse control system is easy to learn and use, noted Stacy, compared to tree-length logging equipment, and the learning curve is not that much different. “The operator can adapt a lot faster with our controls.”
Paper mills in the South have been slow to embrace cut-to-length timber harvesting, noted Tommy, because of the ease of producing tree-length wood. “We have the lowest cost of wood in the U.S.,” he said.
Paper mills prefer tree-length wood although sawmills are more inclined to accept cut-to-length wood, noted Tommy. Nevertheless, mills are more receptive to cut-to-length. “They see the value in the product utilization.”
Alabama has abundant pine forest resources, observed Tommy. Wood prices are providing an impetus for sawmills to purchase cut-to-length wood, he noted. Pulpwood prices are diminishing, but saw log prices are favorable.
Tommy, 55, began working in the forestry equipment industry with a family member in 1987. Their company later had experience with cut-to-length equipment when it represented Valmet. He is in the process of opening a second location in southwest Alabama in conjunction with another company. Inventory already is being moved to that facility in Grove Hill, and Equipment Linc will hold a formal grand opening in the early fall.
Some loggers are “very interested” in cut-to-length logging machines, said Tommy, because of the tight labor pool. “They have an aging workforce, and they’re very interested because of the lack of labor…Everybody’s fighting for the same labor in different industries. We’re limited with our workforce.”
Mills in the Southeast are becoming much more receptive to buying cut-to-length wood, noted Stacy, “especially from our quality customers,” because those loggers supply logs that are measured very accurately for length and diameter to meet mill specifications.
“They are recognizing that the logs these contractors are producing with our machines can go right into the mill and don’t have to be sitting in a yard to be processed first. They meet their specs and can go right from the truck into the mill. It’s more efficient for the mill.” In addition, loggers are happier because they can produce more valuable saw logs “because of the accuracy of the measuring system of our harvester heads and their power and speed.”
Tommy said Equipment Linc shares the same kind of commitments as Ponsse. “Product support and service…That’s what we focus on here.”
Jason, 55, has been involved in the forestry equipment business all his adult life, beginning with his father, and he also has worked in logging. His father started logging in 1993 and sold his equipment business in 1995. After the expiration of a non-compete clause, however, he got back into the equipment business in 2002, retiring in 2007 and selling the business to Jason and his brother, Johnny, who also oversees their logging business, Mid-
South Timber Co. As co-owner, Jason also holds the corporate title of president.
Ponsse representatives brought the H8 HD harvester head to Knight Forestry to help mount it on a knuckleboom loader in order to test it. “They were really helpful,” said Jason. He cited their enthusiasm to attach the harvester head to a machine “to show us what it would do.”
“Their effort had a lot to do with why we took on the dealership,” he added. “The service guys they sent down here are top-notch.”
He admitted to being somewhat skeptical at first, but he was very favorably impressed by the performance of the harvester head.
Jason favors a mixed approach to cut-to-length equipment to win over loggers. Using a cut-to-length harvester head on a knuckleboom loader at a landing “really speeds things up,” he said, for tree-length logging operations.
In addition, the Ponsse harvester attachment produced significantly more of valuable saw logs. A typical stand of timber will yield about 50-55 percent saw logs and the remainder pulpwood, noted Jason. On the first tract the Ponsse harvester head was used, production of saw logs increased to 80-85 percent.
What makes that possible is Ponsse’s computerized system to measure log length and diameter. “There’s no guesswork,” observed Jason. By contrast, a knuckleboom loader operator, using a trailer-mounted delimber and bucking saw set up on the ground, is eye-balling each log from the cab and making those decisions.
Attaching a harvester head to a knuckleboom loader is a lower cost investment than purchasing two cut-to-length machines, a wheel harvester machine and a forwarder, noted Jason. “It puts them in the cut-to-length business a lot cheaper than the purpose-built machines…We’re hoping to get loggers into cut-to-length at a price that’s affordable.”
The cost of the purpose-built cut-to-length machines is a hurdle for some loggers, he acknowledged, “and the mills need to compensate for that.”
“When the mills catch on,” and are willing to pay loggers more, you will see more loggers with the purpose-built machines, said Jason. And more mills are beginning to catch on and see the benefits of buying cut-to-length wood products because the logs meet their specs, are more efficient for the mill to process, and reduce waste material that has to be chipped for pulpwood.
“Purpose-built Ponsse harvesters are top of the line,” said Jason. “I think we can sell those. It’s just going to take time.”
Another benefit of cut-to-length logging machines is that they only require two workers, not a crew of four or five machine operators. “And labor is getting harder and harder to find,” said Jason.
He expects a smooth transition for his employees to learn how to service and repair Ponsse equipment. “A lot of the components are very similar,” he noted. “It’s not re-inventing the wheel…I think we can jump right in.” Still, Knight Forestry mechanics will have to learn how to service the equipment as well as the Ponsse control system and software. Ponsse already has begun sending staff to Knight Forestry to begin the training processes.
(For more information about Ponsse equipment, visit www.ponsse.com or call the company’s North American headquarters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, at (715) 369-4833.)