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Local focus brings success to log enterprise

Father and son team John and Roderick Low have been managing their woodlands and running Dunearn Logs for about 10 years. Roderick explains how the business has developed.

My father started processing firewood following the outbreak of Dutch elm disease in the 1980s.

I was studying land economy at Aberdeen in 2012 when I decided to push Dunearn Logs and make the business more substantial. It has since turned into a full-time job.

It’s a team effort. my father does gun sales from the farm and balances his time with the logs, mostly doing deliveries. I split my time between the farm (we have a couple of hundred ewes) and timber processing. We also bring in casual labour during busy periods and to help with thinning operations.

This has been a great way forward for our enterprise. We have a handful of reliable locals who really enjoy coming to Dunearn for some extra work, getting outside in the woods and doing some hard graft. We are currently thinning a plantation from the 1990s which is on steep ground.

The Dunearn woodlands are mixed, with long established areas dating from the 1800s containing beech, oak, larch, sycamore, Scots pine and ash. New plantings include ash, larch, oak, beech and birch. At the moment, we are processing more than 200 tonnes of hardwood a year with a turnover of about £50,000. The timber is mostly brought in from a neighbouring timber operation. All wood originates from the Kingdom of Fife, which fits our sustainable, local approach.

The processing equipment we use is manufactured in Austria by Posch. We took the view that a conventional firewood processor was not ideal because the timber we process is so mixed in size. Instead, we have a vertical and horizontal splitter, both run off a tractor PTO. We use the Scandinavian approach of breaking down large timber into billets which are then stacked for seasoning. We then run these billets over a Posch saw bench and conveyor.

We dry the timber in open pole barns – no kiln drying required. The timber bought in cord lengths is unseasoned – some has been felled for a couple of years but it is never fully seasoned until cut and split. We only sell the logs once they are seasoned to below 20% moisture content. We actually sold out of dry stock during the Beast from the East cold snap in 2018.

The timber enterprise contributes well to the overall farm business. Our goal was to manage and improve our woodland and to work with neighbours who are running much larger farms, buying in local timber to balance with our own stocks. The key to our success has been to focus on supplying the local market – we’re not trying to break any records.

If we can keep up the quality of the firewood, I think we will keep increasing our local customer base which is already strong. The next thing is to mill more timber for higher value planking. We feel the demand is there and having a small volume of good quality sawn timber available is very exciting.

We are also looking at trying to encourage more customers to buy wood wet to season themselves just as they do on the continent. We have several customers who do this but if we get more people on board it means less pressure on stocks in the winter.

It will be interesting to see what the Scottish Government does regarding wood-burning stoves and the seasoning of logs. The new rules on moisture content announced recently in England* seems to be steering us more to kiln drying. We should be looking to Scandinavia for inspiration – wood seasons itself with a little planning.

*Sales of wet wood in small units (less than 2 cu m) will be phased out in England from February 2021 to reduce air pollution. Wood burning stoves will not be banned but wet wood in volumes greater than 2 cu m will have to be sold with advice about how to dry it before burning. Similar proposals are being considered in Wales and Scotland.