Foothills Forest Products

In 2004 C&C Wood Products Ltd., purchased Foothills Forest Products, a non-operating sawmill at the time. With C&C’s specialization in forestry and lumber industries, Foothill Forest Products continues to produce dimensional lumber as its main product, but also started to focus on increasing production efficiencies – efficiencies that bring on higher ROI and profits in this highly competitive industry. Besides dimensional lumber, Foothills Forest Products also produces wood pellets, and 90 per cent of the company products are sold to the Canadian markets.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Daryl Stastook, Plant Manager, about the challenges of the lumbering industry, and the ways the company remains competitive in the market that experienced serious hit during the economic downturn.

“We are currently in the process of modernization as well as installing new equipment in order to recover more wood from our logs, so we can realize a better return on investment, and a better dollar figure per 1,000 board feet of wood. Right now we are moving our debarkers, and installing autograder and planer.

This will allow us to realize higher efficiency, and pull higher grade of lumber without the potential for human error, and add to the mill’s bottom line,” says Stastook.

To be as efficient as possible, the company found a way to utilize wood wastes that originally had no practical use and had to be disposed of.  The company started producing wood pellets in 2006, and currently produces approximately 10,000 tonnes of wood pellets annually. With great opportunities for this product in the Alberta oil industry, the company plans to increase the pellet production to approximately 30,000 tonnes.

“Our pellets brokers sell about 90 per cent of our pellets to oil and gas industry, where these pellets are used as absorbent for spillage, whether its water, oil or other liquids. The rest of the pellets are sold to retail customers for home heating and so on.”

The company also continues to increase efficiencies in its reforestation efforts. The company actively monitors the forest regeneration in former cut sites, and noted that the quality of the wood and the speed of the forest regeneration differ, depending on a series of factors. “For example, planting the right amount of trees and creating the right forest density is crucial to faster regeneration, as it can speed up the growth of the tree to a suitable cutting size by maybe 20 years, so instead of waiting 120 years to cut that tree, we only have to wait 100 years. We have several projects underway to collect data in regard to this. We are seeing that a tree can grow 12 inches in diameter over 40 years in one area while only four inches in another, so we are working to determine what are the main factors for this — overplanting, location, and other variables. We may not be here to see the results of our work, but the future generations will be able to benefit,” says Stastook.

Most of Alberta’s industries also continue to face the challenge of competing with the energy industry in terms of workforce retention and attraction. The fact remains that most can’t effectively compete with the oil industry in terms of financial compensation. That is why Foothills Forest Products also offers employees other incentives that relate to the quality of life and work/life balance. “We are creating a work culture where people enjoy coming to work. Oil and gas requires workers to work on the oil patch several weeks at the time, and this work model impacts on people’s overall quality of life. That’s why we offer a balance of work and family life,” says Stastook.

As a major employer in the small community of Grande Cache, the company is engrained and involved with the community. Even the extremely low lumber prices over the past few years put strain on the company operations, the mill’s management has worked hard to maintain operations and not a single employee has been laid off through the downturn. Stastook emphasized the adamant resolve from the side of the owners to sustain the jobs within the company even during the harshest of times. “When times were really bad, the management never laid off anyone. This was very significant achievement when the whole resource industry went through a shakedown, with mines shutting down projects, postponing new projects, and laying off people. Our owners struggled through with us at a significant cost, but they didn’t want to lose the employees, and they deserve a great credit for being able to maintain the mill running. C&C really cares about its employees,” concluded Stastook.