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Debarker in the bush
B.C.’s Timber Baron Contracting has carved itself a market niche selling timber to Asian customers, and to meet Asian health standards, they have developed and designed their own portable debarker to peel the logs in the bush.
By Jim Stirling
The small companies, those exploring the niche markets, the survivors and those players that don’t readily fit the conventional profile, help make the forest industry both interesting and innovative.
Timber Baron Contracting Ltd., is based in Terrace in northwestern British Columbia and it’s carved out a role for itself, presently selling timber to Asian customers. “We have no secure fibre, no secure markets or anything else,” explains Matt “Mike” Thomson with a smile.
Mike and his dad, Lee, are principals with Timber Baron. Lee has been keeping busy in the B.C. coastal forest industry from Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii since about 1985, says the younger Thomson.
Lee—Timber Baron’s president—started getting serious about the Chinese and other Asian markets like Korea and Japan about seven years ago. That was before China developed into the important market it’s become. He has made many trips to Asia to help develop contacts and customers there.
They’ve got a full time salesman over there and have developed some long term customers, notes Mike Thomson. The predominantly small scale timber buyers use the wood, which varies widely in quality, to make dimension lumber products, he adds.
Asian market phyto sanitary health standards require that logs are peeled before leaving their country of origin. That was one of the persuasive reasons why the Thomsons developed and designed a portable debarker. “We can take it where it’s needed—Stewart, Prince Rupert—to peel logs on site. We’re like a travelling carnival.”
Timber Baron takes advantage of containerization to get its products overseas. The container port in nearby Prince Rupert is the closest major outlet to many key Asian markets. Containers arriving from Asia are transshipped via CN Rail to major portals in central and eastern North America. The B.C. and to a lesser extent the Alberta forest industries have used those returning, often empty, containers to supply lumber and other wood products to Asian customers.
“We use containerization because it’s the only way for us to do business,” points out Thomson. “And there’s a scheduled ship sailing from Prince Rupert to Asia each week.”
At the other end of the process, Timber Baron procures its logs through various sources. These include through B.C. Timber Sales, from private wood holders and making deals for timber with forest licence holders in the northwest region. Timber Baron was running two company-owned logging trucks and had a road building side comprised of three older hoes, a bulldozer and rock truck available for contract work in the rugged region.
One of the beneficial aspects of an operation like Timber Baron is its ability to quickly react to change. ‘Head office’ decisions can be made whenever father and son get together. On the flip side: “Trouble is, there’s no stability,” says Thomson. And constantly dealing with Asian markets means currency fluctuations can and do throw a spanner in the works of an often fragile viability.
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