Plant for Plants

December 2, 2016

Oregon’s plentiful nursery industry provides ample opportunities for a one-man mobile grinding operation.

By Kevin Yanik
PP&E (Portable Plants & Equipment),
December 2016, page 20-21

What happens when salable nursery stock won’t sell? Or when plants are damaged? Or when plants simply don’t grow into salable products?

The outcome probably varies by nursery grower, but there’s a good chance growers will make an effort to salvage the potting soil from healthy plants to minimize the future cost of that input.

To that end, mobile grinder operators such as Joe Nuttbrock are often called upon to process nursery stock and prepare its potting soil for future use.

“This machine [4710B] and the company backing has been the best investment I’ve made so far.”

Nuttbrock serves a number of nursery growers in the Salem-Keizer region of Oregon. Monrovia, a brand sold at Lowe’s home improvement stores and independent garden centers throughout the United States, is one of those growers.

Nexterra grinds nursery stock with a Peterson 4710B Grinder in Dayton, Oregon

“They’ve got so much material, and waste is generated daily,” says Nuttbrock, referring to Monrovia’s nursery in Dayton, Oregon. “They have an area where they collect [waste] material, and when they generate enough material at that site I’ll come in and process it for them.”

Nuttbrock, the vice president and owner of Nexterra Inc., typically visits Monrovia once or twice per year with his 4710B Peterson Pacific grinder.

“We’ll set up the machine to meet the sizing requirements they want,” Nuttbrock says. “We’ll process material where it’s at. They compost in house, so they’ll combine [processed material] with other materials they use to make their mixture. And it all gets reused.”

According to Nuttbrock, one pass through his grinder is all Monrovia’s nursery stock typically needs before it becomes an ingredient of a future compost. No screening is necessary, he says. The same is true of the other nursery growers Nuttbrock serves in the region.

“We’re able to get it to a usable size in one pass where [nurseries] don’t have to screen it,” he says. “That’s a goal with a lot of the facilities I work for.”

Diseased plants are handled differently. They’re staged elsewhere and processed separately.

“Most of time we’re processing waste material into something that’s usable,” he says.

Regardless of whether Nuttbrock is grinding healthy or unhealthy plants, the procedure is relatively routine and safe for his grinder.

“Nurseries manually remove most of the pots,” he says. “Occasionally, something will slip through, but most of it’s pretty clean.”

A nursery job typically lasts a few days, Nuttbrock adds, and the demand for grinding work within that industry has been fairly consistent.

“Dump fees are considerable, so if they can keep material clean enough to process it on site at a cost that’s effective for them, then they can save money,” he says.

The state of the nursery industry in recent years has driven some of Nuttbrock’s work, as well.

“Sometimes, we’ve gotten work for other nurseries because of a bad situation in which nursery stock was planted on leased property and the market has taken a dive,” Nuttbrock says. “That material has to be removed and processed, which is not the best scenario as far as taking a loss for them as a business. But we’ve had to come in and clean up some nurseries like that, too.” Nursery growers, of course, aren’t Nuttbrock’s only customers. Nuttbrock puts his 4710B to use on debris related to construction, demolition, land clearing, logging and storm damage. He also processes brush, pallets and other materials.

Peterson 4710B Horizontal Grinder used for waste wood by mobile business Nexterra

“We’re strictly mobile,” he says. “We don’t have a yard or a facility. We handle a lot of nurseries, composting facilities – both private and counties/municipalities. Anytime we can we’ll send material out as biomass for cogeneration. It’s kind of all over the map.”

Nexterra’s origins

Nuttbrock started Nexterra in 2004 when he purchased his first grinder. He incorporated the company in 2005, and his one-man operation has been growing steadily since then.

“Business is expanding for us, and every time we take a step forward we upgrade equipment for size, power and functionality,” Nuttbrock says. “I basically maxed out the capacity on the grinder I had before this, so I needed something with more power and capability.”

The 4710B provides just that, he says.

“I’ve had several machines,” Nuttbrock says. “I’ve had a tub grinder and other horizontal grinders. This machine and the company backing has been the best investment I’ve made so far.”

The grinder also provides versatility, giving Nuttbrock the ability to chase a variety of jobs.

“The spectrum of work we do with this equipment is so wide that we’ve learned to adapt to each situation,” he says. “Both of my excavators and the grinder can be configured in a couple of different ways.”