Emerging forestry contractors in South Africa are in urgent need of support in order for them to make a go of their businesses. This theme became the centre of lively discussion at the SA Forestry Contractors’ Association AGM that was held at the Hilton Hotel in the KZN midlands recently.
Most of the members who attended the AGM were of the opinion that forestry contracting is an extremely tough business that requires a seasoned and experienced hand at the tiller in order to be successful. With the increasing mechanisation of forestry operations, contractors are more often than not required to borrow heavily from financial institutions in order to purchase the equipment required to fulfil their contractual obligations. This leaves them with little room for trial and error, and in the forestry environment there are so many variables at play that errors are going to be made.
Compounding the challenges that contractors face, many of the foresters appointed to ‘manage’ the contractors are themselves short on experience, and as a consequence they are unable to contribute to the solving of problems and are prone to make unreasonable demands on contractors at times.
By way of example – a contractor provides the costing for a weeding operation, based on a low level of weed infestation in a compartment. But the managing forester only gives the contractor the green light to commence the weeding operation several weeks or months later by which time the weeds are above waist high, and the original costing model is no longer adequate.
“Contractors are being set up to fail,” was a frequently heard refrain during the discussions at the AGM.
SAFCA’s new incoming CEO, Roger Johnston, himself an experienced forestry contractor, urged experienced contractors to reach out and provide emerging contractors with help, advice and support at every opportunity.
Contractor mentorship programme
A presentation at the AGM by Brad Shuttleworth of Forestry Solutions which focused on a contractor mentorship and support programme offered by his company, sparked the discussions that ensued.
“As part of the South African forestry companies’ Enterprise and Supplier Development programmes, their objective is to enhance supplier and beneficiary productivity and efficiencies in their operations. In many instances the companies identify and appoint contractors based on their own selection criteria,” said Brad.
“Once appointed the forestry contractors are expected to hit the ground running and frequently do not receive the support from the company foresters as, firstly, they are seen as independent contractors, or the company foresters do not have the time or in many instances the knowledge and expertise to mentor and assist their contractors in managing or developing their businesses.”
Brad said that experienced forestry consultants and contractors need to be mobilised as technical service providers to conduct business assessments and to provide management and operational mentorship to the identified forestry contractors.
Forestry Solutions offers a comprehensive and practical three-phase approach that covers a broad range of issues including general and legal compliance, safety, costing, risk assessments and operational planning, financial management, supervisor training, operational best practices, market linkages and expansion, continuous improvement and sustainability.
There followed some discussion among SAFCA members as to the best way to approach these challenges, and it was concluded that the association should engage with Forestry South Africa in an effort to get the forestry growers behind a contractor mentorship and support initiative.
Digitalisation of forestry operations
Muedanyi Ramantswana of Nelson Mandela University provided an overview of the forestry programmes offered at the university’s George campus. He also gave a presentation on the ‘digitilisation’ taking place in the forestry space, and demonstrated a software programme currently under development, called ForestTabs, that provides a digital platform for managing, monitoring and measuring silviculture operations.
Finally, a presentation by Rikus Smith of Forestry & General Insurance Brokers provided useful insights into the nuts and bolts of ‘public liability’ and ‘spread of fire’ insurance required by forestry contractors.
FOCUS ON FORESTRY 2023
New forestry equipment, strategies & insights
The big international forestry brands plus local equipment manufacturers and service providers as well as mulchers, chippers and grinders made their presence felt at the Focus on Forestry 2023 event held in the picturesque KZN midlands in early November. Against the backdrop of the magnificent Karkloof mountains and surrounded by Sappi’s well kept gum and pine plantations, forestry stakeholders gathered from far and wide to see the latest equipment up close and gain some keen insights from dozens of presentations that covered just about every aspect of the forestry business.
There was also a lot of networking, socialising and catching up with old friends on the fringes of the conference, as there has been a long gap since the last Focus event that was held before COVID hit.
The overall message from the conference was that forestry businesses have and will continue to encounter hard times in the form of international trade disruptions, weak economic cycles, logistics bottlenecks, rising input costs, fires and extreme weather events, but at the end of the day forestry is part of the solution for many of the world’s biggest challenges and is on an upwards trajectory.
In his keynote address, Dr Ole Sand, Managing Partner of Criterion Africa Partners (CAP), which has invested millions of dollars in forestry businesses in sub-Saharan Africa, says forestry assets have been and are still undervalued. But the positive impacts forestry makes on the global climate balance, the protection of biodiversity, employment and infrastructure are in the early stages of being recognised, valued and monetized.
He said plantations constitute just 3% of global forest area, but account for 47% of global industrial roundwood supply, while natural forestry is already beyond capacity. The demand for industrial roundwood is expected to increase by 600 – 900 million m3 per year by 2050.
Africa is a continent where forestry plays a massive role in providing people with goods and services, but there is a critical need for more efficient and more sustainable management practices.
Population growth in Africa is driving wood demand and unsustainable forest use. The continent accounts for 20% of total global wood consumption and 36% of global fuelwood consumption. However much of Africa’s fuelwood production is unsustainable, said Dr Sand.
He said subsistence agriculture is the biggest driver of global deforestation. In Africa natural forests are harvested beyond capacity, and as a result deforestation and degradation is continuing.
“Fuelwood consumption with charcoal the driver will continue, while new plantation development that is taking place is insignificant.”
In this regard, he says that the private sector is doing a better job managing plantations than the state.
Dr Sand said that the CAP team believes there are only two solutions: scale up smallholder plantation development, and improve efficiencies in charcoal production.
He says the scarce resource in African forestry is knowhow and management capacity – not capital.
“When given the market opportunity, smallholders will respond,” he concluded.
Wood replacing fossil fuels
“Everything made from fossil fuels today can be made from a tree tomorrow,” said Brazilian forest engineer Marcos Wichert of Stora Enso.
Intensification of forest management is happening, producing more from less is the objective, while making forests more resilient by:-
• Reducing use of agro-chemicals • Improving soil health • Reducing CO2 emissions.
Forestry operations are developing fast with GPS devices on planting tubes and even spades to map each tree, AI thinning selectors on harvesters, remote machine operation and unmanned autonomous timber trucks.
And the new frontier, he suggests, is about gaining a better understanding of the role of beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil. At the end of the day growing anything - including trees – is all about soil health.
Michal Brink of CMO endorsed Dr Sand’s opinion on the role of smallholder tree farmers.
“Future forestry expansion will be driven by smallholders, because the land belongs to communities,” said Michal.
The role of corporates is to serve as anchors to support and empower smallholders.
He says CMO is providing simple, affordable and scaleable solutions to enable smallholders to get their operations certified.
“Empowered smallholders are the vehicle to expansion of sustainable plantation forestry into the future,” he concluded.
Independent forester Michael Henson talked about resilient forestry and the fact that reducing the risk of failure is much more than just about site and climate.
He said clones are “impressive when they work, and equally impressive when they fail”, and are a “roll of the dice” as they have a very restricted genetic base and carry a higher biosecurity risk than seeds which are genetically more diverse.
Nelly Ndlovu of Mondi Zimele spoke of the need to do more research into agro-forestry to help small-scale growers to improve their cashflow.
Bongiwe Mafuya of Emabhaceni Development and Nature Solutions described how clearing of alien vegetation in the Eastern Cape has created jobs and improved rangelands and agricultural fields. Further good news for the community is that since the alien plant removal, the local river is flowing freely again.
FPA’s on the edge
Addressing the perennial topic of fires in forestry, Ian Henderson lamented the lack of support for FPAs from the Forestry Department and the fact that only 46% of state owned landholders are members of FPAs, while private sector membership is keeping many FPAs afloat. He suggested small FPAs should join forces to establish bigger, more viable FPAs.
Gideon van Lill of Amathole Forestry explained how they reduced fire damage in their Eastern Cape plantations from 5 894 ha burnt between 1999 to 2004 while it was under Safcol management– to 340 ha burnt between 2005 to 2023 while under Amathole Forests management. The key, he said, was meticulous, detailed risk assessment and a very focused and structured approach to risk reduction. Also improved, co-ordinated involvement of external role players.
The sudden termination of the highly successful PBS truck pilot project by the Department of Transport in September 2023 - without giving any reasons - has put forestry logistics at the crossroads. The benefits of the PBS timber trucks to growers, to the economy, to the environment and to the safety of road users has been plain to see.
“With freight rail in South Africa failing us, the PBS trucks have saved our lives,” said Francois Oberholzer of Forestry South Africa.
He acknowledged that the ‘Pilot Project’ status of the PBS trucks had to end at some point, and is hopeful that the programme’s termination signalled that the PBS trucks would be absorbed into the legislation so that they can continue to improve the efficiency of road transport.
Francois said that 56% of conventional trucks currently operating on SA’s roads would not pass the PBS safety tests.
David Taylor of Tailor Rail company expressed his optimism that private sector participation in freight rail in South Africa is coming, but that the stakeholders need to move forward with extreme caution as there are multiple infrastructure and operational challenges.
By the way, 170 metres of cable theft takes place in SA every hour of every day. That is just one of the challenges that freight rail operators will face. Will we see the return of the green uniforms of the Railway Police?
Andrew Cooper of Mondi explained their journey to single-pass harvesting. This has largely been achieved with extensive trial and error and working closely with the manufacturers of harvesting heads.
The aim is to reduce stem processing time, wear and tear on equipment, and stem damage. He reckons that two to four tons of fibre per hectare is lost from excessive stem damage during multiple-pass processing.
The trick is variable pressure control on the rollers which need to be finely tuned to the tree characteristics and conditions at the time of harvesting, coupled with fewer rollers and more knives.
The heads endorsed for one-pass harvesting are:- • SP 661E • Waratah H225E • Log Max E6 • Ponsse H7 Euca
Andrew said that the system balance is critical, and edge trees are a problem for one-pass harvesting.
“The journey to one-pass harvesting is very complicated and difficult to manage, but very worth it in the end,” he said.
Major learning: one size DOES NOT fit all.
Willem van der Merwe of Africa Biomass Company is a pioneer of chipping, mulching, grinding, shredding and billeting everything from post-harvest forestry slash to prunings, bush clearing and alien vegetation reduction in forestry and agriculture.
He says three hectares of cleared alien vegetation gains enough water savings to irrigate one ha of farmland.
Furthermore, 1.7 tons of good quality woodchips has the same energy value as one ton of coal, and reduces the carbon footprint by 95%.
He says markets for processed biomass material need to be found close by, on farms, in factories and in local small towns where more and more opportunities are opening up.
Community-focused carbon project
Candice Taylor of the New Forests Company provided insights into a community-focused carbon project in Uganda which will provide small-scale growers with additional income from carbon credits earned in their operations. One of the objectives of the project is to encourage the small growers not to harvest their trees too early before they reach maturity, which is what they tend to do in an effort to boost their cashflow.
She said the project has taken three years to monetize, and will take five years to break even.
“Carbon shouldn’t be your side business – it should be a part of your core business,” she said.
And finally a word of advice: beware of the ‘carbon cowboys’ … so-called expert consultants who charge a fortune when you can do it yourself with a bit of effort. It’s complex, but it’s not rocket science.
Wattle field day in Eswatini
A successful wattle field day jointly organised by Eswatini-based Montigny Investments and South African-based NTE was held at Mhlambanyatsi in Eswatini recently, attended by around 60 enthusiastic tree farmers and stakeholders.
The aim of the field day was to promote co-operation and networking between stakeholders involved in forestry business across the border, and to share ideas about how to grow and market wattle timber and bark effectively.
Eza Mapipa of NTE said that Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) has good growing conditions for wattle, and that co-operation and collaboration between wattle growers, processors and marketers across the border was important in order to expand the resource into the future. Montigny has vast areas planted to wattle in Eswatini, and there are many small scale wattle growers active there as well, said Eza.
Presentations from invited guests from forestry businesses were followed by a field visit to a Montigny wattle plantation with live demonstrations of latest equipment and methods.
NCT Forestry’s Craig Norris discussed the importance of good land preparation for planting wattle with quality pits and good planting techniques. He also touched on the need for effective after-care and weed control to ensure productive, uniform stands.
Erich Jacobs of Sunshine Seedlings shared info about sourcing good quality planting stock and how to look after the seedlings on their journey from nursery to field. It is crucial to transport them carefully so that seedlings are not damaged in transit. He said they should be kept in a shaded area and watered regularly so they don’t dry out before they are planted.
The Stihl team demonstrated the use of a Stihl earth auger for creating uniform pits for planting, and also the effectiveness of the Stihl MS 260 chainsaw that is light but powerful and well suited to forestry work.
Callum McKenzie of Pietermaritzburg-based Silvix Forestry demonstrated the use of various forestry tools including the Faka-Plenty hand-operated planting tube that enables a field worker to put a seedling in the ground and add gel to the pit without having to stoop down, as well as some highly effective spraying tools for effective weed control.
Cliff Walton of NCT shared info about Project Wattle Regen, a joint NCT and NTE programme that provides support to small-scale wattle growers in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands. These growers supply their timber to NCT and the wattle bark to the NTE factory at Hermannsburg.
William Aherin, Industrial Manager at NTE, provided some info on the wattle bark market, while Eza Mapipa shared insights on corrective pruning of young wattle trees to maximise growth and tree form. He also demonstrated the correct way to bundle wattle bark for transporting to the NTE bark factory at Iswepe just outside Piet Retief in South Africa.
Eza explained that the bark should be delivered as fresh as possible, preferably within 24 hours of harvesting. The bark should also be securely bundled with the white inner bark facing inwards so it is protected from exposure to the sun and weather. This will ensure top quality fresh bark that fetches a premium price.
ABC pioneering processors of biomass
Africa Biomass Company (ABC) has been a pioneer in the development of biomass processing such as wood chips, biofuel, and mulch in both the agriculture and forestry industries in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades.
In 2004 Willem van der Merwe, founder, and CEO of Africa Biomass Company, bought a small, specialised tree felling company and used wood chippers to enhance productivity. Over time these services and equipment were used in agriculture, river rehabilitation projects, and lately also forestry, with a focus on biomass to energy and under canopy mulching.
ABC has grown to meet increasing demand for these services and now has nine production teams using the latest biomass processing equipment and techniques to process plantation residue, alien invasive trees, and encroacher bushes.
ABC specialises in providing contracting services in the following core operations: -
Land Preparation Serrat mulchers have demonstrated their effectiveness as a comprehensive solution for land preparation before replanting. Plantation managers see this as the future of single-step preparation, replacing the previously used herbicides, burning, and manual labour, which were both labour-intensive and had a detrimental impact on the soil conditions.
Under Canopy Mulching and Fire Management In South Africa, the practice of under canopy mulching is gaining traction as part of an integrated fire management strategy to reduce fuel loads, such as prunings. ABC is excited about the results obtained through multiple trials in various regions using the rugged Serrat mulchers to process fuel load in an efficient, cost-effective, and ecologically beneficial way to the environment. The Serrat forestry mulchers, available as part of ABC’s contracting fleet or to purchase, come in several widths and can process several diameters of material according to the client’s need.
Biomass to Energy Correctly sourced biomass is environmentally friendly, renewable, abundantly available, and cost-effective fuel that can be combusted as a source of fuel to generate heat for a variety of applications. Typical sustainable sources of biomass are offcuts from sustainably managed commercial plantations, recycled orchard and vineyard residues, and most importantly invasive alien vegetation that is cleared as part of river rehabilitation projects. Harvesting unwanted alien vegetation increases water runoff, decreases the risk of bush fires, and contributes to the restoration of natural vegetation.
ABC is an authorised dealer for Bandit wood chippers, Serrat mulchers, Badger biomass equipment and Dezzi equipment. They are based in Worcester in the Western Cape and have branches in George (W. Cape), Kirkwood (Eastern Cape), Upington (Northern Cape), Parys (Free State), Tzaneen (Limpopo) and Nelspruit (Mpumalanga).
ABC places a high value on customer well-being and after-sales support, and each customer's operations are treated as unique, with custom-tailored solutions.
ABC are Gold Sponsors at this year’s Focus on Forestry Conference taking place at Karkloof in the KZN midlands from 7-9 November, and conference delegates are invited to visit their stand. ABC CEO Willem van der Merwe will address the following topic on Wednesday, 8th November at 11:55: “The latest biomass processing equipment and techniques available to process plantation residue, alien invasive trees, and encroacher bush.”
For a full list of new and used equipment for sale, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Big boost for the bakkie-sakkie
Every land manager knows that early detection and rapid response is the best method for keeping your property safe from wildfires. Often the first person to arrive at a wildfire is a forester or farmer with a ‘bakkie sakkie’ which is able to get close enough to the fire to extinguish it before it gets big, dangerous and out of control.
Those precious few minutes provide a window of opportunity that can make the difference between a minor fire statistic and a major wildfire disaster. It’s at times like this that the forester/farmer wants to know that the bakkie sakkie on the back of his vehicle is armed and loaded and ready to deploy a jet of water with enough velocity to kill the fire quickly and efficiently.
Now two heavy-weight equipment suppliers - Husqvarna and ANCO Manufacturing - have collaborated in an exciting partnership to develop a highly effective, robust and reliable 'Bakkie Sakkie' mobile firefighting unit that is well adapted to combating veld and forest fires.
Ruan van Schalkwyk, Husqvarna's Area Business Manager for Limpopo and Mpumalanga, and the project's pointsman, explains: "The concept is simple yet remarkably ingenious. ANCO designed a water tank engineered to be mounted at the rear of a bakkie (pickup truck). Powered by a robust Husqvarna multi-purpose engine (MPE) and a high-capacity water pump, the result is a mobile firefighting unit that can be rapidly deployed to combat fires, even in the most remote and challenging terrains.”
The key component of this firefighting innovation is the Husqvarna HH 163 MP multi-purpose engine, known for its reliability and robustness. It features a powerful 163cc petrol engine that is durable, water, and rust-resistant, making it ideal for the 'Bakkie Sakkie' unit.
“This engine is built to withstand the harsh conditions often encountered during firefighting,” says Ruan. One of the standout features of the HH 163 MP is its optimised combustion chamber and air vent, resulting in lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions during operation.
Casper Pieterse, the Operations Manager at ANCO Manufacturing, says that the decision to partner with Husqvarna was an easy one. “The idea for the collaboration originated with Husqvarna South Africa’s Managing Director, Pieter Smuts. When it was presented to us, we recognised the potential of their product powering the ‘Bakkie Sakkie’, offering farmers a game-changing, reliable solution to the very real and ongoing threat of veld fires.”
Anco Manufacturing is a proudly South African company that specialises in the manufacture of a variety of fire fighting units and equipment as well as silviculture equipment used in forestry, such as mechanised boom planters.
By combining the ‘Bakkie Sakkie’ with the HH 163 MP multi-purpose engine that fits snugly on the back of a bakkie, farmers and foresters can respond swiftly and effectively to fires, making all the difference in containing a blaze before it escalates.
“Husqvarna has an impressive reputation for reliability, and we are confident that by combining our manufacturing expertise with Husqvarna’s powerful MPE, we have a dependable resource that will deliver optimal performance when it’s needed most,” adds Casper.
The partnership between Husqvarna and ANCO Manufacturing has positioned both companies as innovators in firefighting technology. Their commitment to creating an effective product that will assist professionals, as well as farmers in their firefighting efforts, showcases their ongoing dedication to finding creative solutions that also maximise safety. The ‘Bakkie Sakkie’ represents a new standard in innovation and another step forward in ensuring that first responders have the tools they need to access and attack fires before they get away.
To order your copy of the iconic SA Forestry 2024 desktop calendar, send a request by email to:- email@example.com
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The calendar includes:-
• 12 months: January – December 2024 • Stats about forestry in South Africa • Fire Danger Index • FPA contact details • Forestry Directory • Useful forestry info, including:- Conversion tables Moisture loss calculator Slope & gradient Planting spacement Thinning regimes
Bell, AFGRI, Husqvarna equipment round-up
A mid-range spare parts option from Bell with 1 000 hour warranty; a 61 stump/hour Dipperfox stump crusher from AFGRI Equipment; and specialised, super protective new chainsaw trousers from Husqvarna, proudly made in SA …
Bell introduces mid-range BETA Parts Bell Equipment has launched Bell Equipment Trusted Alternative (BETA) Parts to give its customers a convenient and competitive alternative, endorsed by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), for their older Bell machines or when faced with budget constraints.
Bell Equipment Director of Aftermarket and Logistics, Aldo Mayer, explains: “BETA Parts has been designed to bridge the gap between new Bell Parts, being our premium quality parts designed to OEM specifications and used in production, and Bell ReMan, which are major components that have been remanufactured to meet OEM specification. New Bell Parts and Bell ReMan carry a one-year/unlimited hours warranty while BETA Parts has a six-month/1000-hour warranty.”
At the other end of the scale, Bell Used Parts are also available but do not carry a warranty.
BETA Parts was piloted with starter motors and alternators that were offered to a sample group of customers. They responded positively to the opportunity to be able to buy cheaper parts from Bell, and BETA Parts has now been officially launched and will be expanded to other parts and rolled out throughout South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, followed by the rest of the global dealer network.
“It’s all about giving our customers choices and being able to fully support their needs throughout their Bell ownership experience,” says Aldo.
“BETA Parts is the next best alternative to our premium new Bell Parts, our ‘alpha’ or leading parts brand, and we’re confident that our customers will benefit from being able to buy more cost-effective parts from Bell, especially since they are approved by Bell and carry less risk than other cheaper parts due to their Bell warranty cover.
“Choosing BETA Parts simplifies the purchasing process, offering a one-stop-shop experience that eliminates the need for customers to search and compare prices from multiple suppliers in their quest for savings."
Dipperfox stump crusher logs 61 stumps/hour The AFGRI focus this month is on the Dipperfox SC600 stump crusher mounted on a Wacker Neuson RT75 excavator. It’s an efficient combination that foresters can use to eliminate stumps in a compartment that needs to be cleared and re-planted. Removing old stumps makes it easier for subsequent mechanised operations to function efficiently, and also improves compartment access for fire-fighting units in case of a wildfire.
The original equipment manufacturers rate the Dipperfox at 60 stumps per hour. The AFGRI team that recently tested the Dipperfox mounted on the Wacker Neuson RT75 in a Eucalyptus compartment, achieved 61 stumps in an hour.
This equipment is supplied and supported by AFGRI Equipment, which has recently established a new branch in Tzaneen servicing the forestry industry. Premium forestry equipment supplied and supported by AFGRI includes John Deere, Waratah heads and ProMac three-wheel loaders.
Husqvarna opts for SA-made Chainsaw Trousers for maximum protection The Husqvarna South Africa team has introduced specialised safety pants for chainsaw operators that provide all round protection from chainsaw-related hazards. The trousers, which are made in South Africa to international standards, are also water resistant, flame retardant and acid repellent.
Studies reveal that just under half of all chainsaw-related injuries target the legs. This is why Husqvarna SA has introduced the chainsaw trousers as an essential addition to their arsenal of protective gear. Pieter Smuts, Husqvarna South Africa's Managing Director says that the chainsaw pants were a ‘passion project’ for him, and they purposely chose to use local manufacturers. “South Africans are talented, resourceful, innovative and our new chainsaw pants epitomise our faith in the synergy between innovation and local ingenuity," he said.
The Husqvarna chainsaw pants are designed to achieve a perfect balance between providing protection and comfort. Certified Class 1 – 20M/S, they face chainsaw speeds of up to 20 meters per second. Meeting the ISO 11393-2 international standard, Husqvarna Chainsaw Pants assures an unmatched safeguard, catering to both homeowners and professionals in forestry, arboriculture, farming, and the realms of green space management. Tailored sizing, ranging from waist size 77 to 132, weaves a tapestry of custom fit, fusing flexibility and comfort into a seamless union.
Husqvarna Chainsaw Pants are available through certified Husqvarna dealers or can be purchased directly from the official Husqvarna eCommerce site.
Safe DIY tree felling
Winter and early spring are the perfect time for felling trees because all those bare branches make it easier to see what you're doing. But whether you are a seasoned professional or a homeowner, tree felling is a dangerous business that requires proper planning and the right working techniques to make sure it is done safely and effectively.
Charles Henderson, Husqvarna's Tree Professional Business Development Manager, knows a thing or two about this. “Winter is the tree-felling sweet spot. The lack of leaves makes it a breeze for arborists and loggers to assess a tree's health, spot any potential issues and pick the right ones to cut down,” he says. “Homeowners should also take advantage of this opportune time if they need to cut down any trees in their gardens.”
Remember though that the most important part of tree felling is safety first! Whether you're a pro or a first-time tree-feller, Henderson recommends following these six steps to complete the task with confidence.
Start with a Plan Before commencing any tree-felling project, it's crucial to plan. Take a close look at the tree's surroundings and identify any potential obstacles that may interfere with the felling process. Consider factors such as the tree's size, shape and proximity to structures or power lines. This assessment will guide you in selecting the right tools and safety equipment needed for the job. For bigger trees, a chainsaw will always be the most efficient and effective tool and it makes post-felling work a lot easier too.
Identify the Felling Direction Carefully study the tree and assess the direction in which it naturally leans. Additionally, take note of the wind direction, as this should align with the tree's natural lean to ensure a controlled fall. Clear the area around the tree and in the direction of the intended fall to create a safe working zone.
Trim the Trunk Before making the felling cut, it's essential to prune the tree's trunk by removing any branches and twigs up to shoulder height. This will ensure that you have a clean and unobstructed cutting path to enhance the safety and precision of the tree's fall.
Determine the Cutting Technique If you are using a chainsaw, the appropriate cutting technique depends on various factors, including the tree's size, slope and the size of your chainsaw bar. There are different cutting methods such as the notch and back cut technique or the plunge cut technique, each suited for specific scenarios. If you're unsure about the best approach, don’t chance it. Get advice from a professional.
Inspect for Rot or Disease Inspect the tree's timber and lower part of the trunk for any signs of rot or disease. A weakened or decaying tree can behave unpredictably during felling, posing significant risks. If you detect any structural issues, reconsider felling the tree and consult an arborist for expert advice.
Establish an Escape Route Before starting the final cut, make sure you have a clear and safe path of retreat. This path should be at a 45-degree angle away from the direction of the tree's fall. Having a designated escape route is crucial for maintaining your safety during the felling process. Henderson reiterates prioritising safety above everything else: “Even with careful planning and preparation, tree removal can be hazardous. If you feel uncertain or uncomfortable with the process, hire a professional with the necessary expertise and equipment.” He also emphasizes the need to plant one or two new trees for every tree felled. “This practice is essential for maintaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem. By planting new trees, we can offset the environmental impact of tree removal and ensure a sustainable future, keeping the cycle of tree planting and cutting in harmony.”
AFGRI gets into forestry equipment AFGRI Equipment Construction and Forestry has opened a new branch in Tzaneen, Limpopo province, South Africa. The new branch is equipped to offer a wide range of forestry and agriculture equipment including John Deere harvesters and skidders, Waratah heads, ProMac three-wheel loaders, Dipperfox stump crushers, PALMS trailers as well as big brand construction and agriculture equipment.
AFGRI Equipment has appointed Pieter Bosch as the dedicated forestry marketer for South Africa. Pieter will be based in Tzaneen, overseeing the company's forestry portfolio. His extensive knowledge and expertise will be of great benefit to customers, as well as the AFGRI Equipment team.
Beyond forestry, the branch in Tzaneen also caters to the residential and commercial services sector, construction and agriculture industries by providing the comprehensive John Deere equipment range and AFGRI Equipment services.
According to AFGRI’s marketing manager, Etienne Meyer, it made perfect sense for AFGRI to take on the supply and backup for John Deere’s forestry equipment in South Africa as there is a 60% parts overlap between John Deere’s agriculture and forestry equipment.
“We know machines, and we know how to keep them running,” commented Etienne.
AFGRI has a big footprint in South Africa with 25 equipment supply and maintenance branches around the country plus 42 retail outlets. Specialised AFGRI forestry equipment hubs are located at Middelburg, Piet Retief and now also Tzaneen.
Contact the AFGRI Tzaneen branch on 071 647 6384 to schedule an appointment or discuss your equipment needs.
Ponsse goes electric Ponsse has unveiled its new technology concept Ponsse EV1 forwarder. Its fully electric platform is one important step on Ponsse’s journey towards zero-emissions harvesting.
The next step on Ponsse’s radar is to switch to fossil-free steel for the manufacture of their forestry machines.
To this end Ponsse has joined forces with SSAB, a Nordic and US-based steel company, who will deliver fossil-free steel to the Ponsse factory in Finland, starting in 2026.
This partnership will further solidify Ponsse’s position as a provider of sustainable forest machines and bring SSAB closer to its goal of establishing a fossil-free value chain.
“It’s great to have a reliable partner like Ponsse now joining our fossil-free journey,” said Lotta Ruottinen, Sales Director at SSAB Europe. “Joint efforts are needed to meet the challenging CO2 reduction targets in forest machines. Both companies prioritize sustainable solutions and will strive to make a positive impact on forest machines using SSAB Fossil-free™ steel, fostering innovation while respecting nature.
SSAB plans to revolutionize the entire steelmaking process, and aims to start delivering fossil-free steel to the market at a commercial scale in 2026 and to largely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from their operations in around 2030. SSAB works with iron ore producer LKAB and energy company Vattenfall as part of the HYBRIT initiative to develop a value chain for fossil-free iron and steelmaking, replacing the coking coal traditionally used for iron ore-based steelmaking with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen. This process virtually eliminates carbon dioxide-emissions in steel production.
Ponsse has also unveiled their latest models of the PONSSE Scorpion Giant harvester, the PONSSE Mammoth forwarder and the PONSSE H8 harvester head.
Ponsse forestry equipment is distributed and supported in South Africa by MTS Parts, Piet Retief.
Mechanical tree pruner Green Projects, based in Lions River in the heart of KZN midlands forestry country, supplies and supports an interesting array of forestry equipment including Logset heads, Stihl saw chains and bars, ProMac cane and forestry loaders, Nokian tyres and Advaligno Patas tree pruners, manufactured in Germany.
The ProMac loaders, designed and manufactured in Richards Bay, are popping up all over the place providing stiff competition to the well known Bell loggers. Frank Uzzell of Green Projects reckons they are powerful and efficient machines, and as an experienced forestry equipment fundi he should know.
Green Projects also supplies and supports Logset equipment, manufactured in Finland. The Logset heads are versatile and efficient, and are highly effective tools attached to an excavator or purpose-built harvester.
The Advaligno Patas is a mechanical tree pruner operated by two people and powered by a tractor. It is attached to the base of a tree, and delimbs it cleanly in seconds. Very useful tool for delimbing pine or Eucalyptus. It can prune up to 15 meters, and in an ideal plantation site can do up to 100 trees in an hour, or so the manufacturers claim.
Frank also supplies an innovative anti-theft device that prevents fuel theft from any vehicle or piece of equipment.
See the tree pruner in action here:
Contact Frank for more info: 082 820 5701.
Chop-em tree fellers goes green Green is the colour of choice for Chop-em Tree Fellers of Benoni who recently purchased a brand new Sumitomo excavator from ELB Equipment, and promptly had it painted bright green.
Rather than the ordinary yellow finish on most excavators, Chop-em Tree Fellers owner, David Kretzschmar wants his equipment to be easily recognisable in the field as belonging to the specialist arborist business.
Having grown up in a tree felling and bush clearing family, David’s first recollections are of riding and sleeping in various types of plant equipment and trucks while his father went about his business. As a result, there is little that he does not know about plant equipment and along with his brothers Malcolm and Karl, can operate any type of machine.
And contrary to popular belief, arborists like David usually do their utmost to save valuable trees through careful pruning, tying, root containment and supporting trees with cables and other techniques, rather than chopping them down. They usually discuss options with customers and try to preserve them - especially indigenous trees. Only as a last resort or if trees are invader species will the axe – or rather the excavator - be brought out.
The Kretzschmar brothers are now planning to ‘green’ their entire fleet of excavators, stump grinders, trucks and saws.
MTO upgrades with new F-series Loggers
An upward growth spurt being experienced by a leading South African timber growing company, MTO, has seen it turn to a preferred supplier of timber handling equipment to replace its fleet of older machines.
The MTO Group, which originated as a state-owned subsidiary of Safcol, was fully privatized in 2005 and has grown and diversified since then. MTO stands for ‘Mountain to Ocean’ and it’s a very apt name since its forests, especially those in the picturesque Tsitsikamma area of the Eastern Cape, are often found in a narrow belt between the mountains and the ocean.
MTO operates in the Western and Eastern Cape and, since 2015, in the Mpumalanga Lowveld as well. It is here near White River that we find Dirk van Heerden, MTO Group’s Maintenance Manager in the Lowveld, and the person tasked with acquiring and maintaining the company’s forestry handling equipment.
Dirk hails from Sabie where both his father and grandfather worked in forestry, so he is really a ‘chip off the old block’.
“Here in the Mpumalanga area we grow mostly Eucalyptus species and we produce a variety of round log products into external value-adding facilities,” he says. “Some of the value-added products include pulp, board timber, sawn lumber, biomass, poles, mining timber, veneer, shutter-plywood, and shelving.”
A visit to MTO’s Eucalyptus plantations near White River shows bustling clear-fell operations in progress with yellow Bell Loggers very much in evidence, extracting the felled timber and stacking it at the roadside for processing.
“We’ve been using Bell 225 A-series Loggers for as long as I can remember and in September 2021, we started the process to replace some older models with the newer machines,” Dirk says. “We researched the market thoroughly as there are a few players out there, but we’re happy to say that our choice once again fell on Bell Equipment’s new F-series Logger. We’re also grateful to Bell Equipment’s Sales Representative, Daniel van Huyssteen, who as a forester, understands our business and the challenges we face.”
According to Dirk, their plan is to retain a Logger for 10 000 to 12 000 hours before replacing it. Nevertheless some of the older models in their fleet had clocked in excess of 18 000 hours. “These Bell Loggers run to those high hours because they are easy to maintain and to rebuild if necessary. Bell also still stocks essential parts for the A-series such as hour meters and fuel pumps, and the company should be commended for showing such faith in an older design that they acknowledge its longevity.”
MTO took delivery of three new Bell 225F Loggers in March 2022 and two more similar machines were delivered in June the same year in the Lowveld area.
“As you’ve seen, we’re using three of these new Bell 225F Loggers infield with two others in our treatment and stock yard where they handle, stack, and load untreated and treated timber poles and other timber products.
“These new Bell 225F Loggers with the Yanmar engines are so much lighter on fuel than the older A-series models,” says Dirk. “We’re saving on average about 25% on our fuel burn with the new F-series Loggers, which amounts to a lot of money at the end of a financial year. What surprises us is that we’re seeing this frugal fuel burn despite the Bell Loggers handling full tree lengths of up to 28 metres at times.”
According to Dirk, the operators took to the new Bell 225F Loggers immediately and commented on how responsive the controls are. The company has implemented strict daily pre-start checks and all operators know that preventative maintenance is key in successfully maintaining equipment to ensure longevity. Every Thursday is wash day for the Bell Loggers, and lubrication is done regularly.
Asked about maintenance and the level of service that MTO gets from Bell Equipment in nearby Nelspruit, Dirk says the following: “We had a few teething problems with the new machines as one can have, but Bell Equipment is a mere phone call away and these niggles were fixed quickly and quietly with no questions asked.
“Looking to the future, upward-moving production targets see our company increasing harvesting capacity, which will increase our need to utilise three-wheel loggers going forward. We’re busy evaluating the amount of new equipment we would need for our expansion in 2023 and will be engaging with Bell Equipment to see if they can supply to our needs,” concluded Dirk.