Inta-Wood Forestry Planting
Nathan Fogden's growing tree planting operation
Each winter Nathan Fogden’s contracting business Inta-Wood Forestry Ltd plants 2.5 million trees.
Nathan has been in forestry since he was 18. He has moved his way up the industry to be the director of his own business employing 6 crews in one of the toughest industries in the country. He started Inta-Wood Forestry as a contracting business in 199, working for Tasman Forest Industries Ltd (TFIL) which was a subsidiary company of Tasman Pulp and Paper.
TFIL was creating a large eucalyptus plantation forest across the Bay of Plenty and central North Island area for use as pulp fiber. This was a time when many farms were purchased and converted into forest land. TFIL had a plan of planting approximately 2000ha per annum, with an intensive release, spraying and fertilizing regime.
Nathan started out with two employees and built up to six – all could fit in his double cab ute.
Through that first winter of planting, Nathan and his crew earned a reputation for good quality standards. This allowed him to expand to a two crew operation by late 1997.
One crew concentrated on chemical releasing and fertilizing and the other crew was mainly doing manual releasing and scrubcutting work.
80% of Nathan’s work during this time was for TFIL – but his company also undertook pruning and thinning operations on radiata pine for other clients.
These days Timberlands (who manage Kaingaroa Forest) and PF Olsen are Inta-Wood’s main clients, although other block managers keep the work ticking over. Nathan says it can be a juggling act keeping the smaller customers happy however he says the larger companies have started reducing their pruning budgets and his smaller clients are often providing pruning work which he needs to keep his crews working all year round.
Currently there are six crews. Three crews are based in Rotorua and one in Hamilton doing pruning, planting and releasing work. A smaller crew based in Tauranga does waste thinning work and Nathan has recently added a small thinning crew also based in Hamilton.
Over the past two winters Inta-Wood has planted an average of around 2.5 million trees per winter in the forests of the central North Island and this year looks to be on track for around the same if they can keep production up.
Nathan says he places a huge emphasis on quality in all operations, however with planting there is even more, as the way each tree is planted sets the standard for the growth and quality of the forest for the next 25 to 30 years.
From start up in 1997 through until 2000, all Nathan’s staff were based in the Te Puke/Tauranga area with staff numbers peaking at around 25. In 2000 he decided to establish a crew in Rotorua. Nathan was getting more work south of Rotorua and longer travel distances had become a problem for the crews based out of Te Puke and Tauranga.
It was around this time that the TFIL programme came to an end with Tasman Pulp and Paper selling its eucalyptus forests to another business.
This meant that Inta-Wood Forestry needed to find new clients and this lead to working for a mixture of smaller forest managers across the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato. Inta-Wood also starting contracting for PF Olsen.
In 2001 Nathan set up a Hamilton based crew. Three of his experienced men including a crew manager from Te Puke moved to Hamilton. Nathan says it took a lot of perseverance to get this crew up and going as Hamilton is not really a “forestry town”. However the long term success of this crew has allowed Inta-Wood Forestry to undertake operations for clients from as far north as Helensville (West Auckland) to south of Te Kuiti, across to Taupo, throughout the Bay of Plenty to Opotiki (with the odd trip to the top of the east Cape) and also through the lower Coromandel.
All this development has meant Nathan spends hours in his truck each year. He appointed Raumati Morgan as operations manager in 2007 and both men can travel 60 to 80 thousand kms a year.
When all crews are full, Nathan has around 50 on the payroll although he says it is very rare not to have a vacancy in most crews. Nathan says the work is extremely tough which means that their worker turnover is higher than most other industries.
Staff are organised by Raumati and Nathan. Office work and wages is taken care of by Nathan’s wife Andrea who left her previous employer to come and work for Inta-Wood Forestry in 2009. Nathan says without her support it would be very difficult to manage this business and she has hadto put up with many nights where he is not home to help out. Nathan says she is the MVP for Inta-Wood and the boys always look forward to one of her smoko shouts.
The difficult nature of the work is compounded by an issue around contract rates which Nathan says has not kept pace with increased compliance costs for contractors. According to Nathan, rates have gone up by half in the last 16 years while rules and regulations have dramatically increased compliance costs. He says it is definitely something that the industry needs to consider in the immediate future and believes that many silvicultural contractors will go out of business or will have to break employment legislation or contractual obligations to employees and clients to stay afloat.
“As an industry we are expecting workers to do 11 to 12 hour days including travel, for a pay packet that is often minimum wage or only slightly better, while doing one of the hardest jobs in New Zealand. This must change.”
In January 2013 Inta-Wood Forestry Ltd was recognised by PF Olsen for its efforts in meeting industry standards for drug and alcohol testing . He was awarded top contractor for all forestry contractors engaged in operations in the central North Island.
Currently all new employees are given a pre-employment screening and one person from each crew is randomly selected to be drug tested each month.