There are about 150 employees at Canfor-Vavenby and their payroll is close to $20 million per year, according to division manager Steve Planeta.
Overall, the division brings in nearly $100 million per year to the local economy, he said.
Those statistics were among the information passed along during a public tour of the sawmill facility held Sept. 24 as part of National Forest Week.
Despite the big numbers, it isn’t easy to make money in the forest industry these days.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher,” Planeta said. “There’s very little left for profit.”
Canfor-Vavenby was profitable during the first part of this year but not in the second.
Two-thirds of the cost of producing lumber is in the logs.
“The big money is in the timber supply,” Planeta said. “The cost of logs was about $54 per cubic meter three years ago. Now it’s up around $80 per cubic meter.”
More people bidding means the price of logs is going up. The stumpage paid to government follows the price of logs but there is a lag – meaning if the log price goes down the sawmill could end up still paying high stumpage, based on what the price was a few months earlier.
Depending on the circumstances, the division purchases between 40 and 50 per cent of its wood. The rest comes from its tree farm license plus forest licenses.
Attracting and keeping good, qualified people is an ongoing challenge.
One solution has been to bring in people who already have some connection with the community.
One example would be Andrew Winstanley, the divisional controller. He is a grandson of Vavenby pioneers Floyd and Frances Shook.
“We have to sell the community in order to attract people,” Winstanley said.
He pointed to developments such as the new Buy-Low grocery store as the sort of thing that makes it easier to attract new employees to the community.
Canfor-Vavenby has been fortunate in being able to get a number of young people into apprenticeships.
The experience in some other sawmills has been that, because getting apprenticeships is based on seniority, older workers have taken them, and then retired a few years later.
The sawmill cuts mostly spruce and pine, plus a little balsam fir and Douglas fir.
It burns some of its hog fuel (bark and other waste wood) to produce heat for its dry kilns.
The company is investigating using wood heat to produce electricity for sale to BC Hydro but no firm decision has been made yet.
Most of the chips are sent to the pulp mill in Kamloops, with some going to Prince George.
Canfor-Vavenby has agreed to supply District of Clearwater with all the chips it needs to to heat the new Dutch Lake Community Centre at no charge.
The logs are sorted by length and diameter in the bush. This significantly reduces waste at the sawmill.
When the logs first enter the sawmill they are first barked.
They are then sent through either a head-saw or a chipper-canter, depending on their size and the desired outcome.
The boards are sorted by grade, size, length and moisture content and put into large bins.
From there they go into the kilns to be dried. Target is 17 per cent moisture, with a maximum of 19 per cent and minimum of 10 per cent.
After drying they go into the planer-mill, where they are smoothed to the required dimensions.
Most of the planed lumber is then wrapped for shipping, although some types are shipped unwrapped.
About half the lumber is shipped by rail, the rest by truck. Some is trucked to a reload facility in Kamloops where it is put on trains.
Safety is a constant concern. New employees take three days of training before starting work. The same goes for employees returning after a time off work.
Despite the challenges, Planeta is optimistic about the Vavenby division’s prospects and would like to get the more investment in the mill.
“I think this operation has a good future but it needs to increase its productivity,” he said. “We need to get fibre at a reasonable cost. It’s a longterm, renewable resource, not a mine that might last 20 years and then shut down. I would like to see the valley support Canfor.”