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Homer Industries Uses Mulch Production to Rake in D’oh

Wed August 29, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Tara Deering

After nearly 30 years in business as a successful tree service company, Homer Tree Service Inc., based in Lockport, Ill., branched out into another arena — mulch production.

When Homer Industries LLC was founded three years ago, its owners knew there would be a constant supply of wood material from their tree service company’s land-clearing projects. The only missing piece in getting this new company off the ground was a grinder to make the mulch.

Todd Hahn, director of operations and marketing for Homer Industries, has been grinding and selling mulch for nearly a decade. So when he joined the Homer Industries team two years ago, he had a good idea about the tools they needed to be productive and profitable. Shortly after he arrived, the company purchased a Vermeer TG9000 tub grinder, which it uses to grind more than 300,000 cu. yds. (229,366 cu m) of wood waste each year.

“The mulch operation has grown unbelievably over the past three years,” Hahn said. “Each year, we’ve more than doubled the amount of mulch we process.”

Experience Leads to Quality

Homer Industries employs a staff of 15 workers, which help manage and grind the raw material that shows up at its 35-acre site. Nearly all of the material that the company processes originates from the land-clearing projects Homer Tree Service completes. Once the trees are cleared from an area, Hahn said tree service workers run smaller tree branches and logs through a brush chipper. The chips and larger logs are then hauled to the company’s yard where the TG9000 tub grinder goes to work. At the yard, Hahn said they usually run the material through the tub grinder twice — first using a 4-in. (10.1 cm) screen and then using a 2-in. (5 cm) screen. The mulch then sits in 60-by-80-ft. (18.2 by 24.3 m) piles for a couple of months so that it can cure before it is sold.

Homer Industries offers a variety of mulch, from certified playground mulch and double-processed hardwood mulch to color-enhanced mulch. “We market the material within a 125-mile radius, including northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin,” he said. Additionally, the company’s 10 delivery trucks offer customers same-day and next-day delivery.

But another important key to providing a quality product is having experienced personnel. “I have operators in my yard who have been around tub grinders a long time,” Hahn said. “I think that helps in knowing exactly what customers want as far as quality of product.”

Customer demand keeps his employees and the tub grinder busy year-round. The TG9000 ran six days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day during the summer. In the winter, Hahn said there was a slight drop in the amount of work they received, but they still prepared for the spring rush and for customers who stockpiled wood material during the colder months. They also took the tub grinder off-site to mulch raw wood material for companies who sell firewood and mulch. “We have a few of those customers up in another area that we do in the winter when we’re slow, and it gives us the opportunity to go out and gain some revenue in the wintertime,” Hahn said.

Grinding Stocked Wood Off-Site

At a recent off-site project in Woodstock, Ill., Hahn and his crew used the Vermeer TG9000 to grind 10,000 cu. yds. (76,500 cu m) of wood waste material for Lumberjacks, a company that provides logging services and sells firewood, mulch, pinion wood, and charcoal. Throughout the year, Hahn said companies like Lumberjacks collect stumps and wood chips, and then hire Homer Industries to come on site and grind the raw wood material because they don’t have a grinder of their own.

To begin the project, Hahn’s operators placed a 2-in (5 cm) screen on the tub grinder, which they used to grind the material once. They then used two wheel loaders to feed the wood material into the grinder.

In all, it took Hahn’s crew only three days to grind the 10,000 cu. yds. of material. One of the reasons Hahn said he purchased the tub grinder was because of its productivity when grinding large logs and stumps. “The grinder efficiently processes large logs that are 36 inches to 48 inches in diameter, and we can grind at a rate up to 550 cubic yards an hour.”

No matter what the job, Hahn explained safety comes first. Because the TG9000 has a Thrown Object Restraint System (TORS), which reduces the thrown object zone distance to allow for grinding in more restricted areas, Hahn indicated that it helps put his mind at ease.

The system consisted of a tub cover and rotor deflector, which combined to help reduce the distance and quantity of material discharged from the machine while loading and grinding. “Right at the beginning, I realized the safety lid was a benefit for us,” he said.

Coupled with experienced operators, the tub grinder has allowed Homer Tree Service owners to turn what was once just a thought into fruition. And looking down the road, Hahn said he’s sure the equipment will help them identify more opportunities, such as the wintertime offsite grinding projects, to continue the growth and success of their mulch operation.

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