High-Tech Mulch

Sept. 28, 2010

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, Florida-based company has established itself as the largest colored mulch processor and supplier in southwest Florida.

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, Florida-based company has established itself as the largest colored mulch processor and supplier in southwest Florida.

Forestry Resources largely credits its use of an advanced colorizing system as the reason for its ability to meet demand for its colored mulch. Known as the WizTech FlashFoam System from Wizard Technologies LLC, Toms River, N.J., it consists of patent-pending processes, colors and delivery equipment, and it has made a significant impact by dramatically shortening the color-to-sale cycle.

Forestry Resources actually got its start as a result of a problematic south Florida tree. According to company vice president Rob James, ongoing efforts to eliminate the Australian malaleuca have allowed the company to evolve and thrive.

"This company was formed with the main goal of addressing Florida's problem with the malaleuca," says James. "This tree was first introduced to Florida in the 1920s by federal foresters seeking a way to dry up the Everglades for development. It 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 — and tens of millions spent each year — success in doing so has been marginal at best. Out of that effort, 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 much experimentation in ways to use the tree (including as a feedstock for paper production, as a material for producing charcoal and as a material for making tomato stakes) he discovered it served as an excellent stock for producing 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," says 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 manufactures and ships mulch for bulk supply as well as producing at peak periods up to 50,000 units of bagged mulch per day. This mulch is then distributed through retail outlets such as Lowe's, various garden supply centers, and its own Forestry Resources Landscape Supply Centers in Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, and Naples.

Over the last decade or so, Floridians' demand for colored mulch began to grow, and Forestry Resources quickly responded to those needs. However, the company soon 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," says 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," he says. "It really was a cumbersome process."

To solve that problem, Forestry Resources added the WizTech FlashFoam System, which delivers a low moisture, foam-based colorant — much like a shaving cream — onto any wood fiber to produce value-added decorative mulches. The concentrated coating of pigments, polymers and binders immediately bonds with the ground fiber, producing colored mulches ready for bulk and bagged shipments.

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 reductions in processing time.

According to Rob James, improvements in both color and throughput have been dramatic. For example, he says, changing colors is much simpler.

"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 says.

In addition to grinding whole tree and logs, he adds, the company also processes pre-ground material ready for colorizing which is brought in daily from job sites.

"For these situations, we simply move our portable WizTech P-60 FlashFoam Colorizer to our Powerscreen trommel — which was itself modified by Wizard to produce colored mulch with the foam process when not screening materials — hook up the lines and start coloring."

James adds that problems with fading and color run-off from stockpiles are now "never an issue."

"There is so little 'bleeding' that I could bag the product in the rain," he says.

James also sees significant improvements in throughput.

"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. Obviously, eliminating all those in-between steps — and the time they take - has significantly improved productivity.

"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. The benefits are so significant because of the degree to which the foam process lowers all costs across the board."

Anthony Hesse, Wizard Technology's president, notes 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 patent-pending manifolds onto a client's coloring-compatible machine — horizontal and tub grinders, as well any trommel, for example — attach the P-60 and they are coloring," he says.

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 well over 30,000 acres of state land.

"However, our position as a full-service mulch company is really our main thrust," says James. And of the massive volumes of mulch which the company handles on an annual basis, he adds, 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," he says. "The impact of that system has really been dramatic."