Co-op model a winner for Edson foresters

By banding together, co-op members have achieved the holy grail of a guaranteed wood supply

Logging and sawmilling to supplement either a grain or cattle farm income has deep roots in Alberta.

A group of Edson-area farmers has taken that model to a new level with the formation of a timber-based co-operative that provides them with what is often described as the holy grail of a supplemental farm income — a guaranteed wood supply.

What’s particularly intriguing about what the EDFOR Cooperative has accomplished is that the province of Alberta, which has control over the provincial Crown wood fibre supply, is often reluctant to make long-term commitments. But it has actually agreed to help the Edson farmers out.

A guaranteed wood supply is critical, said co-op president John Nyssen, who has been a member since its founding in 2005. He has been producing wood products on the family farm for as long as he can remember, but every year there was always the question of how much wood he could access.

“Right now, it’s my primary income,” says Nyssen, who also raises cattle north of Edson and notes his forest allocation and sawmill has gotten him through years of poor cattle prices.

The co-op has 45 harvesting and seven manufacturing members. Most were longtime subscribers to the province’s commercial timber permit program, which allowed them to bid on a wood allocation annually, but with no guarantee that they would earn one or where it would be located.

But together, they have been allowed to purchase a highly valued guaranteed wood supply from the province. The Alberta government agreed to sell EDFOR Cooperative a standing timber quota, which amounts to about 78,000 cubic metres annually in the Edson area — largely spruce and pine in the sawlog diameter range, with some deciduous wood mixed in.

Given its success, the EDFOR group is a model for other groups of Alberta farmers with Crown timber supplies in their midst facing the same challenge of acquiring a consistent wood supply. The co-op offers its members the services of a fully qualified forester, as well as administrative support.

“The co-operative’s function is largely to manage the harvest, to see to it that all silvicultural liabilities are taken care of and also to allocate, lay out, engineer, design and accommodate the harvest of 1,100 cubic metres per member per year of the primary cut,” says David Cobb, the co-op’s manager/forester.

It is held to the same standard as forestry companies in harvesting and reforestation of timber, and helping members meet their obligations is a big part of Cobb’s job.

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Members, who pay a fee based on their allocation, can either harvest their wood allocation and sell it or use the wood to manufacture products like timbers, corral fencing, posts, flooring, and firewood. The level of experience ranges from very experienced forestry individuals to relative greenhorns, and from hand fallers to fully mechanized loggers.

The goal when allocating timber is to manage the entire area in a holistic manner so that the timber resource stays healthy and sustainable.

Sandra Plangger, co-owner of Logstream Ltd. describes the co-op as, “its own family of people with the same interests and outlooks.”

Plangger and husband Tony have been members for four years, and custom cut lumber up to 20 feet long, primarily bridge decking and timbers for the oilfield sector, as well as fence posts. Plangger says one of the benefits of membership is that they are usually allocated an area where the log profile matches their needs for custom cutting and fence posts.

Wood allocations are handled in the most equitable way possible — a draw from a hat each fall. Prior to the draw, Cobb will have an idea of how many ‘buddy’ working groups there are and how many individuals there are, and will make that many group and individual blocks available. The ‘Group’ and ‘Individual’ draws are handled separately. Members will pick a chip from a hat, and based on their priority number from the draw, they will choose a harvesting site from the map drafted by Cobb.

New members are carefully vetted to ensure that they understand their obligations in exchange for a wood supply and how to properly manage their area. The co-op’s board is responsible for ensuring members comply with their obligations.

“We have a five-step disciplinary process that is used from time to time to help members to understand the need to be environmentally conscious, to work in conjunction with the operating ground rules, and also to operate within EDFOR’s bylaws,” says Cobb.

Policies and disciplinary procedures have helped to keep the organization stable, he adds.

“We still make mistakes,” Cobb says, “but we try not to make them twice.”

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