The timber industry’s strength in South Australia is one of the mainstays of the economy of the South Eastern corner of the state. The vast flat plains are home to an area, about 250 km across, dotted with plantation timber, both pine and blue gum.
The timber pulled out of these plantations, either as wood chip or logs, is either destined for export or the array of local or regional mills putting out a variety of timber products. This industry is supported by a large group of businesses, Tabeel Trading is one of them.
The timber hauling industry is a specialist segment of the road freight sector but struggles with, and is searching for solutions to, many of the ongoing problems which beset trucking as a whole. Low rates, last mile access, long unloading queues, finding vehicles robust enough and keeping staff, at the same time as running a safe and professional operation, all of this keeps, owner, Steve Witherow and his team on their toes.
The company now runs 25 of its own trucks as well as using the services of a further 25 trucks as subcontractors. There is also a considerable number of teams felling and chipping in the forests in the hinterland of the operation’s hometown Mount Gambier.
Work is divided between blue gum (about 45 per cent) and pine at 55 per cent. The pine is all moved as logs but the blue gum is processed and transported as logs and as wood chip. In all, Tabeel shifts 1.2 million tonnes of timber products every year, 800,000 tonnes in the form of logs and 400,000 in the form of wood chip.
From their base in Mount Gambier the trucks work within a 250 km radius of the town. The longest run for the trucks is to the timber processing facilities in Geelong, Victoria, 350 km away. 70 per cent of the timber handled is destined for export and is delivered into the port in nearby Portland.
An area of blue gums will be this team’s home for four months, as they work their way though swathes of blue gum, make it into chip and transport the product 200 km to Portland on the Victorian coast, where it is loaded on ships bound for Japan, China and Korea, the destination for most of the wood chip.
Like many of the Tabeel teams working these woods, the one Diesel News visited is, what is called, an integrated operation. Basically, the company handles both felling and transport of the product to its eventual destination. This team is expected to process up to 1200 tonnes of wood chip every day. With each B-double unit able to handle a maximum payload of between 40 and 49 tonnes, this equates to around 25-27 loads a day.
As each truck takes at least 20 minutes to load, this leaves very little leeway for the operation working a shift which starts at 5am and finishes off at 1am the following morning. Add in time waiting for trucks or while equipment in this harsh environment is repaired, and the margin for error is pretty small.