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Canfor mill in DeRidder going well

Canadian forest industry companies have been finding their way to the Southeast U.S. for about the past two decades, mostly because of managed forests, which have improved the wood basket greatly in Louisiana.

So, if you grow it, they will come. Even with damage from two hurricanes in recent years and wildfires this year, the area grows “a bunch more trees” than can be used by the facilities in the region.

Canfor Southern Pine is the latest Canada-based company to come to Louisiana. Its new $200 million lumber mill in DeRidder marks the 16th venture in the Southeast U.S. and the company’s first green-field project — building a new mill from the ground up — in the United States.

The journey to the Southeast U.S. started in 2006 for Canfor, with the purchase of mills in South Carolina. Then the company bought mills in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. Now the company has 13 lumber mills and two laminating plants in the United States stretching from Louisiana to North Carolina.

Ahead of Schedule

Twenty-one months after the first shovel dirt was turned over, the DeRidder mill is not only up and running, it has achieved its goal of adding a second shift and is working to reach full production of making 250 million board feet of lumber.

“This mill has surpassed expectations earlier than expected and we are continuing to exceed expectations,” said Michael Best, general manager of fiber procurement and residuals for Canfor’s West Region, which includes Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.

Best works with local procurement foresters to make sure a steady flow of wood reaches the mill. He also was in on deciding where to build the new facility.

Other sites were considered, but one of the biggest reasons to choose the DeRidder site was because of the great wood basket in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas.

The mill is months ahead of schedule, said Jared Ramsey, fiber (or fibre in Canadian terms) procurement manager, which has been good for the company and forest landowners in southwest Louisiana. With a new buyer in that market, he said there’s a lot of excitement in the region.

“Anytime you add a new mill (in the market), it adds competition and is good for the landowner,” he said.

The procurement part of the operation is universal to other wood fiber facilities, Ramsey said, but Canfor’s responsibilities for procurement foresters include also handling the sale of residuals.

“Basically it’s setting up contracts with local customers and making sure shipments are taken care of,” he said.

Canfor handles shipping of residuals through its subsidiary New South Express, its own trucking division that hauls chips, bark and sawdust to customers. New South Express operates 190 trucks across the South transporting residuals and a large portion of lumber.

Workers & Technology

With 18 years experience in forestry, Ramsey is the lead procurement forester. Colt Reeves, who has been a forester for seven years, has been with Canfor for about 10 months and Mason McDowell, a recent Louisiana Tech University graduate, joined the full-time staff after an internship at the company’s mill in Urbana, Arkansas, and the DeRidder mill, make up the three-member team.

Reeves is impressed with the company, he said, because it focuses on the local market.

“They’re letting us be specific to our market,” Reeves said, “something I really appreciate.”

McDowell has been learning how to do the job of a forester in the real world. His degree prepared him for the job force, but there are intricacies college doesn’t teach.

“Going through a lot of classes, you think, ‘Well, I don’t think I’m going to use this,’ ... and you come to work for companies like this and you’re able to put a lot of that into play.”

Most employees at the mill never worked for a sawmill before. They had to be trained, Best said, which allowed leadership to develop the employees in the way Canfor operates.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been the talk of technology and it’s part of the machinery in this modern mill. In the case of the Canfor mill, the technology allows for efficiencies only dreamed of just a generation ago.

“It is constantly learning; it is constantly figuring out a better way to capture the yield of that log,” Best said.

The technology at the mill also includes the value of a piece of wood in what it will be used for and its market value. For example, Best said the quality of a piece of wood will determine whether it is graded well enough for its highest grade, Machine Stress Rated, or MSR. Markets in the north that need the MSR use it to make trusses. Its strength allows homes to handle the snow load required in some areas.

Instead of using a hydraulic arm with a ponds per square in meter, the Canfor mill uses a “thumper.” It’s a device that strikes the board and measures its strength by the sound waves generated.

“As I understand it, it’s like an ultrasound to tell you whether it meets that MSR criteria. The MSR is some of our highest value products that we make in this mill. That is a big market for us ... and you couldn’t make if you don’t have the right kind of log. It tends to be a denser fiber.”

In addition to the thumper, lasers profile every board for its value. The AI of the machine also determines the value of the lumber being made insofar as the type of lumber the market demands. That also factors in the price of the lumber and the log that is milled is cut to its maximum value.

The technology at the mill can even make decisions about whether the value of a certain board is worth allowing a certain length to be considered waste and sent to be chipped or use its entire length without any waste.

That technology enabled Canfor to take in a large amount of timber that was damaged by the Tiger Island and Hwy 113 wildfires. Best said the mill took in what it could, but it was a challenge to cleanly remove all bark off of some of the logs. Still, some of the landowners who lost so much from the wildfires were helped by being able to sell some timber.

Canfor for Community

The economic impact of the mill is significant. Hourly workers average of $25.50 per hour, plus overtime. It provides for families in rural Louisiana where jobs are much needed.

The impact is further reaching. Indirect jobs that are supported by a new mill operating is estimated at about 500, Best said. In addition to those jobs, Canfor supplies its operations by buying local as much as possible.

And they contribute to local groups and events. The list is too long to name, but some of Canfor’s community participation includes the Merryville Heritage Festival, Beauregard Watermelon Festival, DeRidder Beaufair Fair & Festival, DeRidder High School Cupboard Project, Toys for Tots, DeRidder Night out, Military Appreciation, the Barc Program, local schools and sports teams.

The dedication to the local communities is only one of the reasons Best likes the company so much, he said. The company leadership encourages the values it holds dear to communities and employees and lives by them.

One of the greatest examples, Best said, was when a lot of preparation and expense had gone into preparing for a grand opening, where the mill planned to entertain some 250 people. Tragedy struck two days before the grand opening was take place when a worker at a Canfor mill in South Carolina was killed.

“Now, to me you think about everything that went into it and the excitement ... to make the decision (to cancel) because we are a company in mourning, we’re not going to have a big party and celebrate a brand new mill, that’s where you live out your values,” Best said.


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