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Aussie Import Drives Success of Florida Firm

Tue October 12, 2004 - Southeast Edition
CEG



In the world of landscape material supply, there are companies that offer colored mulch as part of their mix –– and then there is Forestry Resources Inc.

Since its founding 25 years ago, the Fort Myers, FL-based company has established itself as the largest colored mulch processor and supplier in southwest Florida and largely credits its use of an advanced colorizing system for its ability to meet the demand for colored mulch.

Called the WizTech FlashFoam System (Wizard Technologies LLC, Toms River, NJ), the coloring systems involves new technology in coloring and delivery equipment, and makes a significant impact by dramatically shortening the color-to-sale cycle.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Forestry Resources got its start because of one problematic South Florida tree –– the Australian malaleuca, a plant that, according to company Vice President Rob James, has allowed the company to evolve and thrive.

“This company was formed with the main goal of addressing Florida’s problem with the malaleuca,” said James.

He explained that this tree was first introduced to Florida in the 1920s by federal foresters seeking a way to dry up the Everglades for development. The plant established itself so well that it eventually overpowered the native species and began spreading from there. Today, after more than two decades of ambitious efforts to eliminate it, success in doing so has been marginal at best.

“Out of that effort,” said James, “our business grew from a vegetation clearing and management company to one that first developed innovative uses for the malaleuca.”

The malaleuca’s appearance and composition does not lend itself to use as either a decorative tree or a source for lumber. However, Forestry Resources’ owner, John Cauthen, saw the tree as more than just a hindrance. After experimenting with the tree as a feedstock for paper production and attempts to turn it into charcoal and tomato stakes, he discovered it served as an excellent stock for native, non-cypress landscape mulch.

“John’s foresight and business sense allowed him to turn what, up to that point, had been a real negative into something very positive,” said James. “Using the malaleuca as a main component, he expanded the scope of our business by focusing on creating high-quality malaleuca mulch, marketed as Florimulch, which is used by area contractors, government agencies, landscaping firms, municipalities and more.”

Forestry Resources leads the suppliers in the southern part of the state in the creation and shipment of mulch for bulk supply. The company produces up to 50,000 units of bagged mulch per day during peak periods. The mulch is then distributed through retail outlets such as Lowe’s, better garden supply centers, and its own Forestry Resources Landscape Supply Centers, which are located in Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers and Naples.

It’s All About Color

Over the last decade or so, as Floridians’ demand for colored mulch began to grow, Forestry Resources quickly found producing a colored mulch product to be a time-consuming, messy and often unreliable process.

“There was certainly a learning curve associated with the process of colorization,” said James. “For a number of years we had to work with the only colorizing technologies available at the time, while utilizing, as they became available, other methods that had supposedly been improved. Those included water-based colorant systems and those utilizing dry granulated powders. Both worked but had a ton of shortcomings, including the mess created by both the wet and dry colorants, the need for multiple handling cycles, as well as higher water usage, which also resulted in, among other things, higher transportation costs.”

The largest hindrance of all, added James, was the time needed to get from feeding a log into the grinder to producing a quality product ready for shipment to his customers.

“Three days of drying time was the least amount required; it really was a cumbersome process. When we were visited by the Wizard representatives, they told us their foam system would allow us to take whole tree, log or re-grind and immediately produce colored mulch ready to bag or deliver in bulk, but we were skeptical. Well, we quickly replaced that with satisfaction.”

The WizTech FlashFoam System, to which James refers, uses a process that delivers a low moisture, foam-based colorant –– much like a shaving cream –– onto any wood fiber. The results are value-added decorative mulches. The concentrated coating of pigments, polymers and binders immediately bonds with the ground fiber, consistently producing colored mulches ready for bulk and bagged shipments.

“The benefits of the foam process are numerous and, as proven at Forestry Resources and other facilities throughout North America, mean an immediate increase in any operation’s efficiency and productivity,” said Anthony Hesse, Wizard Technology’s President. “The benefits are so significant because of the degree to which the foam process lowers all costs across the board.”

Additional benefits include reduced colorant consumption, extended shelf life for bagged products, consistent color and finish on product throughout the process (regardless of ambient environmental conditions) and, most important, significant reductions in processing time.

According to James, improvements in both color and throughput have been dramatic.

“The color quality is much better with the new WizTech system,” he said. “With wet systems, a plugging issue arose, too much water would be added and the color would fade. Similarly, if it rained within the first twelve hours or so, there was a visible amount of runoff from the pile. But with WizTech’s foam system … there is so little ’bleeding’ that I could bag the product in the rain.”

James said that throughputs also have improved.

“In the past we had to grind our material, pile it and then feed it through the colorizer. When done, we’d push it into a pile for several days of drying and only then could we finally start bagging or loading it out in bulk. Now we are capable of feeding whole logs through our Peterson Pacific HG 5410 and immediately producing nearly-dry colored mulch off the conveyor, which is ready-to-sell.”

Colors are Subject to Change

To meet the needs of a diverse customer base, Forestry Resources offers a broad palette of colored mulches. They have found that the WizTech system has paid dividends there as well.

“Because there is no watery mess common with most other systems, the changeover to another color is fast and easy,” said James. “It is simply a matter of blowing out a few lines, replacing the existing tote of pigment with another color and then continuing with production.”

He added that in addition to grinding whole tree and logs, pre-ground material ready for colorizing is brought in daily from job sites.

“For these situations,” he said, “we simply move our portable WizTech P-60 FlashFoam Colorizer to our Powerscreen trommel, hook up the lines and start coloring.”

Wizard’s Hesse noted that utilizing the self-powered WizTech P-60 FlashFoam system provides users the ability to color with most any machine in their fleet.

“We simply install one of our manifolds onto a client’s coloring-compatible machine –– horizontal and tub grinders –– as well any trommel,” he said.

In addition to being one of Florida’s largest mulch companies, Forestry Resources continues to contribute to the state’s environmental well-being through its Forestry Resources Vegetation Management division.

This division has been a pioneer in wetlands restoration, mitigation and construction. To date, the division, working on behalf of public agencies, institutions and private enterprises, has restored, mitigated or eradicated exotics from more than thirty thousand acres of state land.

“However, our position as a full-service mulch company is really our main thrust,” said James. “And of the massive volumes of mulch we do on an annual basis, about 65 percent is color-enhanced. We are finally at a point where that part of the process is amazingly productive instead of being a logjam. The impact of that system has really been dramatic.”

For more information on Forestry Resources, visit www.gomulch.com, or for more information on the WizTech FlashFoam system, visit www.wiztech.com.

(Written by Larry Trojak ,of Trojak Communications, who represents Wizard Technologies LLC.)