Coastal Plain Forestry, Inc., Pantego, North Carolina

Timber Forest Industry Magazine December/January 2002 Issue

   By K. April Womack

Here, Coastal Plain Forestry owner Al Sawyer and his site-prep manager Josh Respess are pictured with the Savannah 485 Five-disk, center-tillage plow, which Al purchased this year to compliment his three other Savannah plows. Al says that the Savannah plows have proven to be the best plows for his particular operation.

   "Many people don't realize just how much work goes into a tree before it gets to a sawmill," says Al Sawyer, owner of Coastal Plain Forestry, Inc. "Tree farming is just like farming any other crop - peas, corn, and other things of this nature - first, you've got to prepare the land for it. This is the stage of tree farming that we are involved in," he says of his site-prep business.

   Based in Pantego, North Carolina, Coastal Plain Forestry prepares anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 acres of land a year for reforestation. Al started this business in 1973 with one bulldozer. He originally started out clearing farmland, until both the government and environmentalists put an end to this practice.

 
   They may have put an end to farmland clearing, but they didn't put an end to al's entrepreneurial spirit. He simply regrouped and decided to get into another business with which he could still use his existing equipment and skills.

   Today, Al and his wife, Stephanie, operate a successful site-prep business that spans not only the state of North Carolina, but has also lapped over into both Virginia and South Carolina, although they are not limited to this area.

   Although they enjoy doing work for private landowners, Coastal Plain's biggest customers are paper mills, such as International Paper, Weyerhaeuser, and Georgia Pacific. Their two biggest accounts, International Paper and Weyerhaeuser, both own a considerable amount of timberland in coastal North Carolina.
 

   With all these tracts of timber being logged constantly, Coastal Plain Forestry keeps busy with these two accounts alone. The first step in preparing the land for replanting is coming in behind the loggers after the timber has been cut and shearing the stumps off to ground level; logging operations typically leave the stumps anywhere from six to ten inches above the ground. This can be done one of two ways.

   In the past, they used a KG blade to shear the stumps, and then they piled it when they were finished. Now, they don't do as much piling as they once did; they usually use a V blade to shear the stumps and then come back and bed the land when they're done. Afterwards, they fertilize the land to prepare it for the trees that will be planted there.
  

 

This combination SK 250 SuperTrak skidder and Savannah bedding plow has proven indispensable to Coastal Plain Forestry's site-prep operation.

   In his day-to-day operations, Al uses five Caterpillar bulldozers - four Model D7 bulldozers and one Model D6 bulldozer. He also uses an SK 250 SuperTrak - a rubber-tired skidder that he does a lot of bedding with - and two 170 Franklin fertilizer skidders.

   Coastal Plain Forestry also employs the use of four plows from Savannah Forestry. For ground that is hard and needs to be "ripped", Al uses his Savannah 450 ripping plow. In addition, he also uses two 636 Savannah six-disk pull plows for his site-prep operation. And just this year, Al bought a new 485 Savannah plow - a five-disk, center-tillage plow that also has ripping capabilities. Al also has Kenworth diesel trucks that they use to haul their equipment and fertilizer with.

   Coastal Plain depends on Savannah Forestry for their plows and parts, because, Al says, "There are other plows out there, but the Savannah plows really seem to hold out the best. We never had any major problems out of them, and they have proven to be the best plows for our particular operation." Al also says that his SK 250 by SuperTrak has been an exceptional piece of equipment because it can bed and fertilize in the same operation.
 

   Coastal Plain Forestry has nine employees who live in various areas all over the state of North Carolina. This works well for Al because although most of their work is done is the Eastern part of the state, many of these jobs are more than 100 miles apart, and he is usually working on several different jobs at one time. By having employees that he can trust, it gives Al the freedom to let the men work in different areas without a supervisor.

   "It's very seldom that I have two pieces of equipment or two employees on the same tract at the same time. This gives us the ability to have several jobs going at one time. It's not like a logging crew, where all of your employees work on the same tract of timber at the one time. I have employees spread out at several jobs at any given time," Al says of his employees.

 

Coastal Plain Forestry prepares anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 acres of land for reforestation in a single year. Al compares his business to the first stage in any kind of farming - before the crops can be planted, the land has to be prepared.


   Al shows his appreciation for the job that his employees do with bonuses. "My men take care of me, so I try to take care of them, too. Depending on the quality of the work they do and the amount of time it takes them to do the job, I like to try and give them a little extra at the end of the week."

   Al also furnishes his employees' transportation; each of them has a pick-up truck supplied by Coastal Plain Forestry. But all of these incentives are based on the job performance of each employee. "Good, quality work is the first thing we make sure we do at each and every job site. The next important component that we have to take care of is our production - we have to get the job done and get out of there and start on another one," Al says.

   Al is happy to say that they are able to do a lot more work for private landowners now than they were in the past. "Years ago, landowners didn't replant their land in timber," Al says. "In the past, after the timber had been cut once, a farmer didn't think he would get anything back out of the land. It couldn't be reused for farmland, and the farmer would just let grow back naturally.

   "But what grows back on it's own usually doesn’t amount to anything - just shoots off the old stumps, mainly. And now, trees are getting about four feet of growth a year. So with routine thinnings and fertilizing, you can clear-cut the land again in just 30 years. After seeing this, more and more people have started replanting their trees."

 

Last but certainly not least in Coastal Plain Forestry's site-prep operation, every tract of land is fertilized to prepare it for the trees that will be planted there.


   However, according to Al, not nearly enough people are replanting their timberland like they should. "We have got to get people to start putting the trees back after they've cut a tract of timber. They can't just keep cutting and thinking that it will came back naturally, because it will never come back like it was."

   Today, the forestry service will pay private landowners 40 percent of the cost of replanting their land in timber. Government incentives, combined with help from consultants and being better informed about timber prices, will give landowners enough incentive to begin replanting their trees. In the past, many landowners simply didn't know what their timber was worth. But, as Al says, "Many people today hire consultants to help them with the sale of their timber. And many of these consultants will help the landowner not only get a better price for their timber, but will also hold back enough money from the sale of the timber for the land to be replanted in trees after the timber has been cut." Al hopes that with these incentives, the lack of reforestation plaguing this industry can be remedied; he and many others see this as one of the biggest problems facing the forestry industry today.
 

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