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Tuesday, 06 September 2011 00:00

Clean Chips: A New Market For NY Logger

Peterson 5900 Chipper with 4800E Debarker

David Lyndaker Tackles a New, Growing Market and Production System
FEATURE ARTICLE BY ERIC JOHNSON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Reprinted from THE NORTHERN LOGGER & TIMBER PROCESSOR, August 2011
 
David Lyndaker says he’s lost interest in producing sawlogs. He sees his future in high production of low-grade, measured in hundreds of tons per week instead of thousands of board feet. His operation is geared up to produce roundwood pulpwood, fuel chips and various grades of clean chips, and he sees higher-grade material as a distraction. “Guys with chain saws and skidders can do really well with sawlogs,” he explains, “but we’re geared up to produce multiple trailer loads per day.“

David Lyndaker with flail chain
It’s not that he has no experience with high-grade logs. Lyndaker, 56, is part of a northern New York State logging dynasty which stretches back for generations (he married into the Zehr family, another source of many prominent New York loggers). He’s cut his share of valuable timber over the years, starting in his early teens peeling logs with a spud. And there’s no shortage of high-quality hard maple sawtimber in the northern Adirondack foothills around his home in Casterland.

It’s just that log markets have declined in recent years, while lowgrade—somewhat surprisingly—has been one of the bright spots in the timber markets of the Northeast. He hauls roundwood pulp to International Paper’s Ticonderoga, NY mill, clean, pulp-grade chips to the same mill, pellet-grade chips to the New England Wood Pellet mill in Schyler and fuel chips to Lyonsdale Energy, a biomass-fired power plant in Lyonsdale, NY. And yes, his 3 crews do produce some grade sawlog material which goes to local sawmills.

Rejected material fills in the trails
He just got into the clean chip business this summer, adding a Peterson screen and grinder. While he and his crew are still working out the usual start-up bugs and quirks of the process, he says they’ve been able to keep bark content down below one percent, and regulate the quality of chip by being selective about what goes into the chipper for any given load. “Pulp markets demand a somewhat higher quality chip,” he explains, “which means more bole wood and less small-diameter material.”

His only real complaint is the high cost of fuel, which he estimates costs his 3-crew operation nearly $1,100 per week to produce about 100 loads. Other than that, he’s pretty pleased with the way the summer has shaped up. Markets for what he produces are strong (the roundwood hardwood pulp market is wide open), he’s got years worth of stumpage lined up, and, most importantly, his four sons are actively involved in the business. He just beams with pride when explaining that the brothers—Matt, Cody, Wade and Travis—are all working hard to keep the business running smoothly. They range in age from early 20s (Cody) to mid 30s (Travis). And he’s proud of his employees. “I’ve got the best crews in New York State, I’m confident of that,” he notes. The team is rounded out with David’s wife, Anita, who keeps the books and otherwise holds down the office. “Every night I come home and she’s got all the numbers—the costs, the income—everything laid out so that I can see where we’re at.”

Peterson 5900 & 4800E making clean chips
Access to those numbers has yielded some interesting facts. He says that it takes twice as much fuel to run a load of chips to Ticonderoga as it does to ship them to Schyler—which is not only closer, but easier to get to on better roads. That’s the kind of information that all loggers need, but not all have at their fingertips. Lyndaker says that with three crews producing as much wood as they do, it doesn’t take much to tip the balance from profitable to unprofitable, and it’s important to know when and why that’s happening.

Lyndaker Timber Harvesting has been producing whole tree, fuel chips for years, but the clean chip business—which has become easier and more popular in recent years—has some interesting costs associated with it. He notes that flail chains, which cost about $11 per length, only last about 30 hours before they basically fall apart. He’s looking for a cheaper alternative. And while all bark and screened material is hauled back into the woods for trail dressing, he says the presence of chain parts would make it more difficult to grind it into landscape mulch. That’s if he had a landscaping mulch market, which he doesn’t.

When visited by The Northern Logger, Lyndaker, his son Cody and crew were working on a 6,000-acre piece known as the Blue Swamp Tract owned and managed by Rayonier Corp. It lies northeast of the town of Indian River, adjacent to the Frank E. Jaden Memorial State Forest. They were cutting all the beech and leaving all the decent hard maple on the site, which had been harvested in the past by both David Lyndaker and his father in law, Ralph Zehr. “We’re basically weeding the garden,” he said. Cody was running the TimberPro 725 harvester with a Quadco fixed disk head. He was doing a nice job—logger’s choice.

Son running TimberPro
Two John Deere grapple skidders were working with the harvester and keeping the landing stocked with wood—an 848 and a 748. The chain flail debarker screen and chipper were lined up behind a chip trailer—one of 12 trucks Lyndaker runs—sending a steady stream of clean chips bound for the pellet mill into the van. Down the road a bit, a Hood loader/slasher package was producing 8-foot roundwood pulp. An older whole tree chipper—a 1980 Morbark Model 27—sat idle, but Lyndaker said they had been using it to produce fuel chips on this job. He said he decided to get into producing clean chips—despite the high capital costs—because the local biomass fuel markets are limited and he wanted to increase production.

“I’ve got an incredible amount of stumpage lined up,” he says, shaking his head. “I keep getting phone calls from people who want their wood cut. I don’t understand it.”

It might be because there are fewer loggers all the time, and few of those who remain in business have the ability to handle lowgrade as well as an operation like Lyndaker’s. “We like to be diverse in our production and in our markets,” he explains, “—so we always have something to fall back on.”

For years, David Lyndaker and his brother Danny were partners, but they amicably parted ways years ago. “We just wanted to go in different directions. We get along fine,” he explains, “but I’ll bid against him as hard as anyone else on any job.” Whoever wins out, we shake hands and wish each other luck.”

It may be true that the older loggers are dying out and there are fewer young people to replace them, but with four sons involved in his business David Lyndaker, doesn’t seem concerned about that.