This harvester fells, de-limbs and cuts a tree to length in around 3 seconds.

Ohio forestry: Playing Ohio’s long game in crop rotation

By Matt Reese

Harvester or feller buncher? 

According to Caterpillar, Inc., a forestry harvester is a machine used for felling, delimbing and bucking (cutting felled and delimbed trees into logs). A harvester uses a felling head to cut the tree at its base to the desired length. The head also has at least two curved delimbing knives that remove branches from the trunk, two feed rollers to grasp the cut tree and a measuring wheel that calculates the stem length during the head feeding process. Harvesters can function effectively on level ground and steeper slopes.

A feller buncher is essentially a less sophisticated harvester. This machine cuts down trees and groups them, but it doesn’t possess delimbing or bucking capabilities. 

Jared Lute spends his days inside one of the more unique and impressive pieces of agricultural equipment in the state of Ohio — a forestry harvester. 

Jared Lute runs the harvester for R. L. Lute Logging, LLC in southern Ohio.

“I call it a harvester or processor because it cuts the tree and de-limbs and cuts to length — it kind of does it all,” Lute said. “Depending on the type of tree, for most trees it takes 3 seconds or less per tree.” 

Lute works in the family business, R. L. Lute Logging, LLC, in the rolling forest land of southeast Ohio.

“We’re a family-owned business. It’s me and my Dad and one other guy. Dad started that business back in the late 70s early 80s with a couple borrowed mules and a borrowed chainsaw. Since then, we’ve come up through the ranks to where we’ve had upwards of 20 employees and we’re now back down to 3. We mostly contract cut pine in the cut-to-length industry for Ohio. All that pine is transported to Pixelle Specialty Solutions in Chillicothe for paper production,” Lute said. “Overall, it’s a pretty neat process. I’m mainly the harvester operator and then my dad drives a forwarder that picks that product up, hauls it to the yard and puts it on the truck. When we had 13 guys working for us, we did about 8 or 9 loads a day. In comparison, just Dad and I mostly working with this equipment, can cut 6 loads a day. It’s a big difference. We are based in Lucasville and mostly work in southern Ohio. We’ll go up towards Circleville, out towards Laurelville, or down towards the Cincinnati area. We try to stay within an hour and a half of home.” 

Lute primarily runs the harvester on paper company-owned land with pine trees planted for the specific purpose of paper production.

“Luckily, we have a team of foresters that work ahead of us for the Scioto Land Company and then we have the Pixelle foresters as well. When we pull into a job, the property lines are all marked and all the footwork is done. We go in, get a get a truck road established and a landing area established for the trucks to turn around and back in on so we can load them. We use a mapping product that I have on my cell phone that the Pixel foresters have access to. We share messages back and forth electronically and it gives me real-time location of where I am on the job at all times. The property lines are in the mapping program. I pull it up on my phone and watch it all day to make sure I’m not getting too close to the property line. With that I can stay away from stream side management zones too. There’s a lot of technology that goes along with this that has really taken leaps and bounds in the last few years.”

Job sites are anywhere from 50 acres on up to a 200+ acres. 

“It kind of just depends on the terrain in the area. A lot of jobs that we work on are maybe 500 or 600 acres in size, but only 60 acres of it is ready to harvest,” Lute said. “As I de-limb the trees, it basically builds a corduroy road everywhere we go. That makes us very low impact, especially in wet areas. Because we’re not dragging with a skidder or bulldozer, we don’t we don’t create big ruts like other types of operations. We’ll make some ruts sometimes if we’re on a trail where the forwarder is going, but they’re very easily fixed and managed at the end of the job.”

In many cases, Lute has to navigate very challenging terrain.

“The harvester handles slopes well, but I will say that it is a challenge. My machine will go a little steeper than the forwarder, so there’s a lot of times I’ll crawl up those steep slopes and pull the stuff back down to where Dad can get to it easier. It is a 19-ton forwarder, a 1910 made by John Deere. As he gets loaded up with almost 20 tons of wood, it tends to get a little top-heavy. So, I try to pull the stuff down to keep him a little flatter. I can go to about 30 degrees of incline with my machine —that’s pretty steep. And the up and down is not as scary as the side-to-side. The incline side-to-side will get your attention.” 

The forwarder picks up the logs and hauls them to be loaded on trucks.

Once the trees are harvested and hauled away, and all the necessary remediation is completed, the property owners come back in and immediately plant a new crop of pine trees for paper. 

“When we leave, we water bar (put diagonal ridges across slopes to minimize erosion) it, grade all the roads and get everything done as far as best management practices to perfection with all the water controlled and put everything as it should be. Then they literally just go right back in behind us and plant it and it’s ready in 20 years to cut again,” Lute said. “There are multiple types of trees. Mostly what we cut is a pitch pine. There’s a lot of growth of those in the South. There’s also a lob (loblolly) pine and then there’s a hybrid of the two called pitch/lob and then there’s white pine. These are all non-indigenous species. There are some Virginia pines scattered through the hills too.

“We see it as no different than a corn crop or a crop of beans. Everything we’re cutting was planted for a purpose and that purpose was to harvest it. It’s a little bit longer lasting crop as far as the time it takes to get to the end, but it’s the same as any other agriculture. When it’s ready, you harvest it. You thin the weeds while you’re there and get ready to replant.”

The technology used is truly impressive, but anyone involved with agriculture knows there are challenges associated with this as well.

“The electronic system is a juggernaut to tackle when you have a problem. There’s almost an infinite amount of wiring that runs through my machine and, like with everything, those wires break. When they do break, you have to find it. Probably the hardest part of my job is on the mechanical end of it when something goes wrong,” Lute said. “But I really enjoy my job. I literally get paid to play every day so it’s a good life.”

Lute’s line of work represents one portion of Ohio’s diverse forestry industry that generates just shy of $29 billion annually (in comparison Ohio corn, soybeans and wheat together accounted for less than $8 billion in economic output in 2021). Conifers account for only 3.7% of Ohio’s forestry industry. Ohio forestry includes lumber and wood products, sawdust, pallets, forestry and logging services, furniture, and paper. These numbers do not include maple syrup production, recreation value, or Christmas tree production. 

Ohio leads the nation in production value of hardwood furniture, largely based in northeast Ohio’s Amish country. Ohio forestry production includes nearly 8 million acres, 31% of Ohio’s land base, 85% of which is privately owned. Southeastern Ohio represents 43% of the forest resources in Ohio. There are 124,000 Ohio workers involved in Ohio forestry earning $7.9 billion in wages and benefits. 

A celebration of all things Ohio forestry will take place Oct. 7, 8 and 9 in Cambridge at the Guernsey County Fairgrounds with the Ohio Forestry Association’s Paul Bunyan Show. The show includes:

  • Ohio State and International Lumberjack Championships
  • Log loader competition
  • Heavy equipment demonstrations
  • Arborist skills clinics and demonstrations
  • Chainsaw carvers, clinics and demonstrations
  • Grinders and chippers demonstrations
  • Sawmill demonstrations
  • Wood stoves
  • Secondary wood products
  • Lumberjack and log burling entertainment
  • Forest industry education and seminars
  • Forest industry equipment, supplies and services
  • Wood crafts
  • Wood auction: All wood processed during the show will be auctioned off on Sunday afternoon, including firewood, milled wood, wood chips, mulch and more.
  • Bobtail & Boom Truck Cruise In.

For more on the Paul Bunyan Show, visit ohioforest.org/page/PBSShowFacts.

Photo provided by the Paul Bunyan Show.

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