Forestry/farming balancing act
Saskatchewan’s Halland sawmill is profiting from concentrating on value–added wood products and balancing out sawmilling operations with farming.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Saskatchewan farmers David and Al Halland talk about the need to produce a brochure to promote their value-added wood manufacturing business. However, the owners’ best advertising is really how well they use finished wood products in their own farmyards. The father and son team owns Halland Farms Inc together with their wives. It consists of a 1,500-hectare grain farm as well as a commercial sawmill 150 kilometres northeast of Prince Albert. From their log homes to the wood siding used for the exterior of the out-buildings, the Hallands have an obvious understanding of the value and potential of wood in a variety of building applications. It’s probably rooted in a bit of old country thinking passed down from David’s father, Anders Halland.
He emigrated from Norway to north of Love, Saskatchewan in the late 1920s, bent on establishing a farm and a sawmill. He imparted a number of important lessons to his children and grandchildren—one being the value of wood and another urging the responsible use of the forest resource. “We’ve planted 60,000 trees on our land over the years,” says David. “We’re now cutting timber that is big enough to produce 2 x 12’s from trees I planted. As long as we keep planting trees, we will always have a timber industry in this province.”
Along with reforestation, they have adopted sustainable forest management practices, such as selectively logging their own 200-hectare woodlot annually to maintain a healthy forest and a consistent log supply, as well as some clearcutting, where necessary, then replanting. “A fellow from Forintek came out here one day to give us advice on our operation,” says David. “When he was leaving, I asked him what we should do. He said to just keep on doing what we’re doing. Lots of people think that we’re lucky for what we have. But we’ve always said that the harder we work, the luckier we are.”
Forintek is Canada’s national forest research institute. Its mandate includes research, development, and technology transfer to its forest industry members, who all-told represent about 80 per cent of forest products manufacturing in Canada. It is also responsible for providing technical support to the forest industry as part of the federal government’s value-added, Value-To-Wood program. The organization has a number of industry advisors stationed at the new Saskatchewan Forest Centre in Prince Albert. David Halland is a member on the Centre’s board of directors.
Most of the lumber produced at the Halland sawmill is marketed as a finished product. After drying, it is planed and remanufactured into tongue and groove v-joint, flooring, log siding, and S4S lumber. The company also produces 6 x 8 milled spruce logs for log building construction. When they aren’t farming or sawmilling, they also assemble log buildings. Their pine lumber is all sawn into two-inch diameter pieces, dried, then resawn for value. Some pieces of lumber are handled as much as 20 times, David says, starting with harvesting the logs in the forest to the consumer’s hands. The company manufactures about 25 different wood products. “Last week, we had an order for 3 x 4 tongue and groove v-joint for the second floor of a log house,” says David. “We made that up for them. There are so many different products that we produce.” He adds that many of the sawmill’s customers, including many lumberyards, have come to depend on them to fill special orders on an as-needed basis to avoid having to inventory the items themselves.
In addition to filling orders, the Halland sawmill keeps an inventory of more popular wood products in a storage shed. David’s son, Alison, says the two branches of the farm business work well together. For example, the power take off (PTO) on a farm tractor is used to drive the 250 kW power generator that powers the company’s planer. For the past 50 years, they have disposed of their sawdust and aided their farming operation by mixing sawdust into their farmland, thereby improving its nutrient base.
Last year, they spread 500 tandem truckloads of sawdust on their land. Eventually, they hope to market the sawdust to an ethanol manufacturing plant proposed for nearby Nipawin. Planer shavings are sold for animal bedding. Activities related to the sawmilling business occur during slower times in grain farming. “The only time it’s a little tough planing lumber is when we are seeding,” says Alison. “Other than that, the system works well.” The Hallands log from November to mid-January, harvesting about half of their annual cut using their own equipment fleet and contracting the rest out.
Up to 500,000 board feet comes from a government Timber Supply License area, with another 200,000 board feet coming from their own woodlot. The sawmill’s fibre supply consists of about 70 per cent pine, 25 per cent spruce, and incidental amounts of aspen, tamarack and birch. Their logging equipment is all second-hand and reconditioned primarily by themselves, consisting of a Hydro-Ax feller buncher, a Timberjack skidder, and a Hitachi delimber. Recently, they purchased a Tanguay slasher. The remainder of the fleet consists of two Volvo loaders, a Cat dozer, and two log trucks.
The Halland Farm has three full-time farmhands who are capable of working in both the grain farming and sawmilling operation. The sawmill operates from February to the middle of April. During that time, the Hallands hire additional part-time help and provide employment for some local farmers, bringing the full staff complement up to eight. Interestingly, the sawmill is the same one used by Anders Halland in the 1940s. The sawblade has a kerf measuring three-eighths of an inch. That large kerf works to their advantage, says Alison, when cutting frozen logs. He says there’s no doubt the sawmill’s an antique. However, it’s been upgraded to its maximum potential, including improvements to the setworks.
When the logs arrive in the yard, they are sorted by species and sawn to random lengths between eight and 16 feet, based on a visual inspection on the highest value they are likely to yield. A front end loader then transports the random length logs to a live feed roll and a deck, where they are rolled onto the carriage one at a time by the sawyer’s assistant and sawn into lumber. One of the sawyer’s main objectives when sawing spruce is to manufacture 6 x 8 logs for use in log building construction. Fortunately, many of the spruce logs at the Halland sawmill are large enough to also produce sideboards and slabs that can be remanufactured into 1 x 4’s and 2 x 4’s.
About three-quarters of the spruce and pine lumber manufactured at the Halland mill is resawn with a bandsaw after drying to achieve higher value. Each board coming off the cant is manually passed through a Coutts edger, through a custom-built trim saw, then manually sorted and piled. Most the lumber dries while seeding is in full swing, but a portion is dried in the company’s solar-powered dry kiln. It is primarily used to dry down the pine, aspen and tamarack. Installed back in 1986 as a government prototype and at a cost of about $100,000, it is capable of taking pine down from 15 per cent moisture content to nine per cent in about two weeks.
While it’s not terribly fast, it requires very little maintenance and monitoring. Quite often when it is minus 30 degrees Celsius outside, it can be as warm as plus 30 degrees Celsius inside the solar powered dry kiln. The heat provided by the solar power system is also very dry, unlike some other types of dry kilns that actually contribute to increased humidity.
The Hallands air dry their green lumber for six weeks before it is placed in the kiln. Once dried and resawn to size for optimum value, both the log building timbers and lumber are finished on the company’s Yates A66, eight-knife, electric planer. It is capable of planing four sides at once, and has a profile-cutting device near the outfeed. The Halland planer mill uses a number of profile cutting blades to manufacture specific finished products based on orders and inventory requirements. Planing, log building construction, and lumber sales generally occur in summer and fall.
Then the cycle starts all over again. Because the majority of wood products from the Halland sawmill are marketed in Saskatchewan and have added value, the company has not felt a significant impact from the softwood lumber dispute. However, the dispute has kept lumber prices low, as sawmills that normally export their lumber are now flooding the local market. While Saskatchewan has a considerable wood resource, David says the softwood lumber dispute is dampening interest in harvesting that resource because of current market conditions.
Consequently, the wood is becoming overmature, resulting in significant forest fire risk and deterioration of stand health. He says the public forest generally is badly in need of better management, such as more commercial thinning and harvesting. For now, the Hallands are satisfied with the progress their sawmill business has made. Al’s children have already shown an interest in sawmilling, which bodes well for the family farm and sawmill in the future.
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