A mechanical boost for wattle industry

August 31, 2010

The wattle bark production seasons could be extended into the winter months if trials with mechanised debarking prove successful. The increasing use of mechanical debarkers by contractors in the KZN Midlands area has boosted the supply of wattle bark to the tannin and adhesives factories, which manufacture a range of products for international markets.

Wattle harvesting
The harvesting team at work in Seven Oaks.


The mechanical debarkers make it possible to continue to debark wattle during the winter months, although at present the supply is not sufficient to allow the factories to stay open through winter to accept fresh bark. However, a steady supply of bark through winter may provide an opportunity for the manufacturers to extend the fresh bark season by several months.

One of these contractors is the College of Machine Operators (CMO) partners, Michal Brink and Francois Oberholzer. They have secured a contract with Sappi to harvest wattle in Seven Oaks and supply bark to the NTE factory in Hermannsburg, near Greytown.
Demuth debarker

The CMO team is currently using a Brazilian manufactured Demuth debarker set up at Sappi's Seven Oaks plantation, to strip the bark from the wattle logs. In summer, bark is collected directly into bags and despatched to the factory on the same day to conform to mill requirements. During the winter months, the bark is spread on the ground and dried for one to two weeks, after which it is raked into heaps, loaded into bags and hauled to the nearby bark factory by road where it is stored until the factory opens again.

Soon after the first rains have fallen in October or November, the bark factories open again to accept fresh bark and the contractors will resume the supply of fresh bark.

Francois said that they are felling 50 to 60 tons of wattle timber a day with two harvesting teams (one of the harvesting teams is operated by a sub-contractor, Jabulani 'VJ' Ndlovu of VJ Forestry Services). The timber is hauled to the depot (2 kms) by a self-loading tractor and trailer unit. He said that the Demuth is producing 7.5 tons of bark per shift – they are running two shifts a day.

He has six people working on the Demuth per shift, plus two to six women cleaning the logs that have been processed by the de-barker, depending on market requirements and the season.

Although the depot is situated at the Seven Oaks railway siding, the wattle timber is hauled by road all the way to the Sappi-Saiccor mill at Umkomaas by Timber Logistics and Timber 24.

Francois said that the Demuth is a strong and reliable machine that does a good job of debarking wattle through summer and winter. The main issue is keeping it clean of resin which tends to build up in the debarking unit. It is powered by a Foton 704 tractor.

Another contractor, Bodo Ortmann, is running a similar operation for Mondi in the Kranskop area, also harvesting wattle and de-barking with a Demuth right through the year.

Keeping the bark factory open

According to Dave Dobson, NTE has indicated that they would consider keeping their Hermannsburg factory open for longer if they can get around 100 tons of fresh bark a day. This provides an opportunity for growers and contractors in the area to continue to harvest wattle and bark into the dry winter months.

Meanwhile, CMO has obtained the licence from Demuth to supply their de-barkers into South Africa, in anticipation of increasing demand for year-round wattle bark.

Published in August 2010

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