Pannell's operation started abut 15 years ago as a small contract chipping firm with a single chipper. At that time, the company was concentrating on projects relatively close to Broken Bow., a region sometimes referred to as Texarkoma for the three states which share borders there. As the number of ongoing projects grew, however, Pannell Chipping acquired additional equipment and broadened its approach to new business.
'Initially we only did work for others, doing first thinnings for land owned by another party, often the paper mills themselves,' says Terry Pannell, the company's president and co-owner. 'After a while we started acquiring rights to our own 'packages,' that is, parcels of land that can number in the hundreds of thousands of acres. Today, we regularly go in and thin multiple tracts of land in the 300-400 acre range.'
Thos efforts start with laying down a road to get to the inaccessible areas of the site, then getting 'the set' (the area in which processing will be done) prepped and ready to bring in equipment including gear to cut, skid, delimb/debark and chip. Pannell says he has found by experience that one set can generally service 40-50 acres of land being thinned.
'That gives us what we feel is the greatest efficiency. To try to handle any bigger area would be difficult and time consuming; to make more moves would also take time and cut into production. In this business it is all about maximizing what we can get from each tract we thin. Generally speaking, a good tract of land will yield about 1 1/2 to 2 loads, with each load being 28 tons of chips. Some tracts, however, may yield no more than 20 tons/acre. Every now and then, I'll be forced to take a package with some less-desirable tracts thrown in with the good; but that's all a part of the business. As a rule, though, I try to make sure I can get 30 tons an acre.'
At Home on the Hardwood
Like many other companies whose operation is centered on chipping, Pannell's primary end use for his chips is the pulp mills located throughout the region. To keep his customers' demands met, he relies on a sizeable fleet of processing equipment, and, while many types and makes are represented, an overwhelming majority of the chipping and debarking equipment comes from Morbark (Winn, MI).
'It's no secret that we prefer Morbark over anything else we've ever used,' says Pannell. 'My brothers were using a Morbark chipper when I came on board and when it came time for additional purchases, we needed only to look at how productive that unit had been for us. They just build their machines a lot heavier, a lot stouter than other manufacturers. The disks, bearings and shafts just seem to be built for this type of application. And that durability really pays off for us. A lot of companies do what we do, but focus only on soft woods. We do our share of pine, but we also do a good amount of hardwood which is tough on a machine. Yet our chippers stand up to it all.'
Pannell's fleet of chipping equipment consists of five Morbark Model 23NCL Total Chiparvestors; ten Cat 525-B skidders; a Morbark Model 30 Total Chiparvestor; three ForestPro debarkers, and three Morbark Flail Chiparvestors: a Model 1848, a Model 2455, and a Model 2755.
Pannell says it's important to note that support and parts availability have also played a key role in their choice of equipment. 'Obviously uptime is key to our success. However, should we be down for any reason, Morbark has always been there for us in terms of meeting our service needs and getting parts to us quickly to get us back up and running. We can sustain as many as five projects simultaneously, so we rely heavily on our equipment and have yet to be disappointed.'
Even in chipping, necessity would seem to be the mother of invention, and Pannell has done everything necessary to help make his operation a success. Realizing that northern Arkansas forests held sizeable amounts of hardwood trees, and needing place to take wood in for procesing, Pannell did the only sensible thing: he set up a remote yard.
'We now have a site in Clarksville, AR that acts as something of a focal point for all the hardwood we gather from that region. We have a Morbark Model 30 chipper set up to process the material coming in to that location and, quite frankly, we leave it at that location just about permanently. It has helped both streamline the operation and keep costs down.'
The site in Clarksville takes in a relatively small percentage of Pannell Chipping's annual volume, on average, about 80,000 tons a year, but Terry Pannell says it is just another way to service the customer and that is, really what it's all about.
Laying it on Thick
As if Pannell's business doesn't face enough challenge on a daily basis, in late winter of 2000 the company took serious hit from Mother Nature, a blow from which it is still recovering. A massive ice storm descended on Oklahoma on Arkansas depositing a heavy layer of ice - up to two inches thick in some areas - on every surface and killing or seriously damaging hundreds of thousands of acres of forest.
'It was classified a 100-year storm, and the damage it caused was just unbelievable,' says Pannell. 'Afterward, we had to harvest a lot of damaged wood which literally flooded the market. And for the next few years, we continued to feel the effects of that storm, since trees that we should have been harvesting at that point in time had been damaged or killed. Even today we are not quite back to where we were before the storm hit. But we're keeping things moving forward and it's nice to know we can count on our equipment to be there for us.'