CRARYVILLE, New York — James McNamee Jr. and his brother, Tucker, began working together when they were teenagers. Years later, they’re still working together, building and evolving a growing contracting business with some help from their father.
And their company, Brothers Landscaping & Contracting, this year invested in new technology offered by Tigercat to reduce and convert wood debris to environmentally-friendly biochar, purchasing Tigercat’s first system in the region.
The family has a long history of entrepreneurship. Their grandfather owned several businesses: mobile home sales, real estate, and a sporting goods store. Their parents, Jim and Kathy, helped manage the store and also worked in real estate. Additionally, Jim has been a successful logging contractor for more than 40 years.
Because of the ever changing volatility of wood markets, Jim advised his sons to research alternative aspects to timber harvesting that will add to and enhance the forest products industry. They have done that, finding niche markets for clean, debris-free firewood, using a Bells Firewood processor and tumbler, and with the Tigercat 6050 Carbonator to produce biochar.
James, 31, and Tucker, 29, launched Brothers Landscaping as teenagers, mowing lawns, providing landscaping services, and doing small tree removal jobs. They gained experience working with their father as well as local tree service contractors.
Tucker earned bachelor degrees in business management and marketing from Sacred Heart University. James earned bachelor degrees in business management and entrepreneurship from Rider University and also a master’s degree in marketing from Sacred Heart, graduating in the top 20 percent of his class. Both men had opportunities for study abroad: James in Australia and Tucker in Ireland.
They have had no interest in the corporate business world and instead are intent on growing their own business. They formed Brothers Landscaping & Contracting LLC, focusing on land development and excavation work.
The company is located in Craryville, New York, which is situated between the Hudson River and the state line with Massachusetts. Craryville is a hamlet less than 15 miles east of the small city of Hudson and about 30-plus miles southwest of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It is also about two hours north of New York City, an area with many second homeowners as well as numerous developing organic and specialty farms. The company’s location, close to both the western portions of Massachusetts and Connecticut, has helped it gain exposure in those states, too.
The business has a shop and a newly renovated office with a second shop attached. Brothers Landscaping employs six people besides James and Tucker. Even their grandparents’ friend, Bob, 88, a life-long heavy equipment operator, comes every day to lend a hand.
The business has evolved from focusing mainly on landscaping to land clearing and excavation. “We currently employ six extremely valuable and talented employees who offer expertise in all areas of our business,” said James. “The success of our business is truly derived from the strength of our team.”
About 40 percent of the business is commercial or residential land clearing, and another 40 percent is excavation work, often connected to land clearing jobs. The company clears land for projects as small as a single home site to 100-plus acre subdivisions. Firewood accounts for about 15 percent of the business, and landscaping, 5 percent.
Logs from land clearing work that can be merchandised are supplied to sawmills and pulp mills for local markets and domestic and exports markets. Although markets have been down, they are “picking up,” said Jim. “It’s been pretty bad through the summer with COVID…They’re certainly picking up. We’re very optimistic.”
With the growth of the business, James and Tucker have invested in equipment to shift from manual labor to mechanized operations in order to increase productivity, speed, and safety. The company’s Bells 4000 firewood processor is an example. The company used to cut and split firewood by hand, producing about one cord per hour. The Bells machine enables the company to produce four to five cords per hour. Likewise, a Valmet 425 EXL feller buncher with a Quadco felling head displaced manually felling trees with chainsaws. “We have also made great strides to differentiate ourselves from other local excavation businesses,” said James.
Beside the Tigercat 6050 Carbonator and the equipment mentioned above, the business is equipped with a mixture of forestry and construction and excavating machines. The forestry equipment includes two John Deere 648 G3 skidders, a Doosan 235 excavator with Rotobec grapple, and a self-propelled Hood S182 loader with slasher. Other machines include a Linkbelt 130 excavator, a Cat D8N with a ripper attachment, a Cat D8H with a winch and stumping blade, a Case 850 bulldozer, A Kubota Kx057 mini excavator, a Kubota SVL95 track skidsteer, a Bobcat A300, a Liebherr 542 wheel loader, and a Terex articulated TA35 off-road truck. For producing firewood, the company also has the Bells firewood tumbler to remove loose bark and dirt and debris from the wood.
“Ultimately, the additional manpower and equipment has allowed us to pursue large, complex projects ranging from large-scale land clearing, site development, and all phases of excavation,” said James.
The company usually is at work on several jobs at a time, and James and Tucker work at job sites as well as overseeing them. “We’re very hands-on,” said Tucker, and are involved like other employees with operating equipment. “We do all the same work our guys do, such as jump into a house foundation to shovel and run the jumping jacks.”
Each man will develop proposals and bids for small projects and then will coordinate with that customer if they win the job and head up the project. On large projects they will confer together on their bid. For land clearing or forestry-related contracts, they consult with Jim to take advantage of his depth of experience.
For the firewood segment of the business, the company uses low-grade logs from the land clearing projects and also buys firewood logs from logging contractors as needed. Firewood is seasoned in advance. “We are one of the few to sell tumbled, debris-free firewood in the Tri-state area,” said James. “We produce firewood year-round,” although most of the production takes place in the fall and winter. They provide delivery to customers within an hour of their shop; a few customers come to their location to pick up firewood. The firewood business is marketed through newspaper ads and social media, and it is promoted by word-of-mouth. They consistently have a large pile of a few hundred cords of split firewood that markets itself to people driving by. Most customers are home owners although they also supply firewood to a few restaurants.
The Tigercat 6050 Carbonator, purchased through CJ Logging Equipment, is allowing the brothers to expand further in a new direction. The Tigercat equipment enables them to transform material that normally would go into a chipper or grinder into biochar, a desirable carbon-rich byproduct.
Jim, who is involved in his sons’ business and offers them ideas and advice, initiated the dialogue with his sons about the Tigercat Carbonator technology and what it could potentially do for their business. “He watched us bury wood chips at a land clearing project because there was no market for them,” recalled Tucker. “As we worked on bids for large land clearing projects, we listened to our dad about the Tigercat Cabonator and the byproduct it produced — biochar.”
“We just needed something different than conventional grinding or chipping,” said Jim. He has been following the technology since it was developed by New Hampshire-based Ragnar Original Innovation (ROI), which was acquired by Tigercat in September 2019. “When Tigercat got involved, it certainly got our interest,” he said.
The Tigercat 6050 Carbonator will be used to process all the wood debris from the company’s land-clearing or forestry operations — tops, limbs and other slash, and stumps. The equipment can process any wood material that will fit in it — logs up to 30 feet long. Large stumps are usually sheared first.
To further diversify their business, James and Tucker established a yard to accept brush, stumps and wood debris from other local contractors and will charge them a tipping fee to unload the material. They will use the Tigercat Carbonator to reduce the waste to create biochar. The biochar will be added to their screened topsoil to create the first mass-produced, ultra-premium topsoil that is biochar infused. It will be sold to local contractors, landscapers and homeowners.
The Tigercat 6050 Carbonator reduces wood debris, processed or unprocessed, by 90 percent while sequestering the carbon. Roughly 100 tons of wood material will produce 10 tons of biochar, according to the McNamees. The proportion is equivalent when measured by volume: about 100 cubic yards of wood material will yield 10 cubic yards of biochar.
It can be used with logs, limbs, brush and stumps. The resulting byproduct, biochar, sequesters carbon. Unlike wood grindings or chips, which decompose and decay — releasing carbon dioxide — when they are used for mulch, compost, ground covering, or similar applications, biochar does not organically decay, so there is no associated release of greenhouse gases. Biochar sequesters carbon for thousands of years because it resists the microbial breakdown common to other types of organic matter. According to Tigercat, the technology is the lowest carbon footprint compared to other material reduction methods.
In fact, it is actually a ‘carbon negative’ process. It reduces the processing carbon footprint to less than neutral — a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Biochar, which resembles charcoal, is made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry residuals — biomass — in a controlled process called pyrolysis. It is a specific process that reduces contamination and safely stores carbon.
The biochar produced by the Tigercat Carbonator is about ¾-inch and smaller and resembles charcoal, according to the McNamees. The length of time it takes to produce biochar depends on the material — the density of the wood, the moisture content, and so on. However, the process usually takes no longer than an hour. Propane is used to start the process, but once it begins, the fuel is not needed to continue it. The process is driven by fans that are controlled to produce a circular current of air that creates heat. The wood material is heated to approximately 2,500 degrees. It produces no smoke, other than the ignition process, before the over air supply seals the carbonizing process within the carbonizing chamber. At the right time the equipment cools the biochar with water. The McNamees keep a truck with a 4,500-gallon tank of water staged nearby to keep the carbonator supplied. Biochar falls through a grate and is collected at the bottom.
The Tigercat 6050 Carbonator is about the size of a 40-foot shipping container but wider. It is a self-propelled mobile vehicle, mounted on a track undercarriage. The equipment is operated entirely via remote control and also features a live stream video monitoring system for full visibility and easy feeding of material.
With manufacturing facilities in Canada and a global distribution network, Tigercat designs and manufactures premium forestry equipment, including complete tree-length and cut-to-length harvesting systems.
(For more information about Tigercat and Tigercat products, visit www.tigercat.com.)
CJ Logging Equipment has been serving contractors in the forest industry since 1981. The family-owned business has locations in Boonville and Little Valley, New York, Wheelock, Vermont, and Allenwood, Pennsylvania. In addition to representing Tigercat, CJ Logging Equipment is a dealer for TimberPro and Komatsu forestry machines, Pro Pac, Quadco, Log Max and Risley Equipment forestry attachments, BWS Manufacturing and Pitts trailers, and Eco-Tracks.
(For more information about CJ Logging Equipment and its equipment offerings, visit www.cjloggingequipment.com or call (315) 942-5431.)
The McNamees received the Tigercat equipment in the spring. Two Tigercat personnel provided on-site training as well as representatives from CJ Logging Equipment.
“Tigercat as a whole has been wonderful to deal with,” said Jim. “We’re very happy with it.”
“And CJ Logging Equipment has gone above and beyond with service and building a relationship with us,” added James. He praised the dealer, citing the company’s “attention to detail and the very personal attention to their customers” and its business culture. “They’ve surrounded themselves with some very competent, capable, dedicated employees,” he said. “This couldn’t happen without their help as well. It’s produced a very nice business going forward.”
The technology also reduces the removal, processing or disposal and transportation costs associated with other strategies for dealing with wood debris and residuals.
There are additional benefits of the technology, noted Tucker. “It’s less of a footprint. We utilize more material than grinding or chipping. It’s much more environmentally friendly.”
Biochar is not just an additive to enhance soil for agriculture, said James. “It’s used for various types of soil remediation…There are a multitude of uses for it.”
Biochar has high porosity and a high-specific surface area — favorable properties to absorb toxic substances and rehabilitate soil. It can be used for micro filters, carbon fertilizer, compost additive, a substitute for peat in potting soil, and plant protection.
“There are not a lot of markets out there presently that are developed,” said Tucker. “We certainly have found some in the meantime. We’re excited and optimistic about it.” In particular, other landscaping contractors are interested in the material, he said.
One of the projects the company was working on when the family was interviewed for this article was the final stages of clearing 35 acres of a 180-acre project for a new distillery. The entire project will take about six months. So far it has yielded a few hundred cords of firewood, some saw logs, plus logs for fence posts. The Valmet was used for felling the timber except large diameter trees were cut by hand.
“This is our first project for the new carbonator,” said James. “All tree tops and other debris are being processed by the carbonator to produce biochar.”
No wood material is wasted, he added. “We repurpose 100 percent of the material from start to finish.”
The biochar will be supplied to the distillery business to enhance the soil on a farm that grows grapes and apple trees for the distillery.
Although the McNamees are developing markets for biochar, in the case of the distillery, supplying it to the customer was figured into the pricing for the job. “This helped us be more competitive than other contractors bidding on this job who had grinders and chippers,” noted Tucker. Markets for chips and grindings are down because of an abundance of the material, he indicated. “There’s no money in it any more, no profit…Biochar is a huge difference monetarily for this particular project.”
“At the moment we don’t have any competitors,” said James. It is the first Tigercat Carbonator in the region.
Both brothers are outdoor enthusiasts. Although they spend long days on jobs and at their shop, they make time for family. Each has a girlfriend, and in the summer they enjoy spending time at a family home on Queechy Lake. They also like to travel and spend time hunting, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, or riding ATVs at a family camp in the Tug Hill plateau region in upstate New York, northeast of Syracuse.
In 2018 and 2019 their company was voted one of the top three businesses in ‘Best of Columbia County’ in both the landscaping and excavation categories. It is a reader’s choice contest sponsored by a local newspaper and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. The contest allows county residents to vote for the best company in over 50 categories.