Operating out of Mountrath, Co Laois, Brophy Timber Services Ltd is a company which specialises in timber harvesting and extraction. Irish Tractor Plant & Agri touched base with its Managing Director Damien Brophy to hear more about the business, some of the new machinery it has added and its hopes overall going forward.
Brophy Timber Services Ltd’s experience in the forestry industry goes back more than three decades and, right now, business is good for the Co Laois-based venture.
Currently employing 15 full-time staff, the company has become renowned for providing its clients – which include the likes of Coillte, Standish Sawmills Ltd, ECC Timber Products and Coolrain Sawmills – with a service that is second to none.
Irish Tractor Plant & Agri spoke with Damien Brophy (Managing Director) to discuss the state of business at the moment for the company and what impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on it over the past 24 months or so.
“Business is busy right now,” he stated. “I suppose not withstanding all the problems that everyone in every industry is having with fuel and different things.
“All things are moving. The wood fuel is very busy because obviously it’s probably better value than any coal, oil or gas at this point in time.
“That side of things is very busy on top of our harvesting. We do have fewer machines than we used to have simply because we couldn’t get good quality drivers for the extra machines. Training in the forestry industry seems to be a huge issue right now because there’s nobody taking the bull by the horns to train any drivers at the moment.
“Even ourselves, we’re reluctant to do so unless we get some sort of funding or some sort of help in training because it’s a big expense to train in operators now.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, and the government lockdowns which followed to fight the spread of the virus, impacted businesses nationwide and Brophy Timber Services Ltd was another that certainly felt the effects in the early days.
However, Damien acknowledges that the company was in a much more fortunate position than others as it was able to stay busy throughout the lockdown months.
“Initially, there was a bit of an impact alright but, to be fair, we have been very lucky,” he stated.
“We were deemed an essential industry and we were hugely busy during it. Now, we did have bigger issues I suppose with the forestry sector was all the problems with felling licenses etc, which was a huge issue.
“I won’t say it’s resolved now, but the bigger issue now for the industry is maybe the lack of quality machine operators.
“The sector is aging and we’ve dropped the ball really over the last 10 or 15 years, I would say, they haven’t been training or enticing any young blood. It wouldn’t take a lot but 20 more operators in the country would make a huge difference to our industry, but they’re not there at the moment.”
More recent times have seen the company expanding its mechanical services on a local scale.
Damien himself is a fitter by trade, starting out in the Galmoy Mines in Co Kilkenny back some 23 years ago.
He spent nine years as a fitter before taking the decision to set-up Brophy Timber Services Ltd and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I started up my business after that and we would’ve always had a mechanical background. We sort of expanded that in the last year or so into doing more work for other companies on a small scale,” said the MD.
“We’re trying to keep it more local in that we’re not doing much travelling and there is a big call for that type of work. Recently, we’ve taken on two apprentice fitters and we have two fully qualified fitters also and we have a big workshop near our forestry base in Mountrath as well.
“So, we carry out building and repair jobs on any machines if needed.”
As for Brophy Timber Services Ltd’s own machinery fleet, this year has seen many of the company’s machines newly updated.
As it stands, BTS is the only business in Ireland with a brand new Ponsse Scorpion King in its yard.
“We have a Ponsse Elk forwarder which we have about two months now and we’re currently waiting on two new mainstream harvesters which are the newest model Ponsse Scorpion King,” Damien enthused.
“They’ll actually be the first in the country here when they do arrive this summer. That said, we have traded in a few machines as well and we’re looking to maybe purchase a different type of harvester for steep ground work depending on the contracts. We’re waiting on that before we actually make a purchase.”
Top of the line machinery is one of the many reasons why the company clients continue to choose it first ahead of other competitors out there.
When it comes to private work, BTS tends to stay local by operating around Laois, Offaly and Westmeath while further west it carries out work for ECC Sawmills.
Damien also filled us in on the details of a new eight-year contract with Coillte which commenced at the start of this year.
“We’ve acquired a new long-term contract with Coillte for eight years for east Clare and south east Galway area, including this year. So that, the local private stuff and work with Coolrain Sawmills and ECC would be the bulk of our work at the moment.”
So, what’s the secret behind it all?
How has this company grown into a success story over the past nearly a decade-and-a-half?
For Damien, much of it comes down to the range of services on offer but, overall, he feels the integrity of the business is what counts most.
“We are probably one of the only that can offer a start to finish job in forestry,” he stated.
“We do the haulage, we come in and we look at the timber and we give a very good price because we’re backed up by good companies as well that are buying the products off of us.
“We deal with very good outlets on other sides of it. We’re dealing with good companies; we’re giving good prices and we like to stay in our local area.
“We’ve very good integrity in our business. That’s something that is hugely important to us and we don’t sacrifice that for any reason.”
Looking towards the months ahead for Brophy Timber Services Ltd, Damien sees consolidation as the primary target for the business first and foremost.
After that, the O’Moore County native is keen to practise what he preaches by taking a step towards trying to attract younger people into the industry.
“I suppose the hopes are really to consolidate because there’s tough times ahead, I think for all businesses,” Damien stated.
“So, it’s more or less to consolidate. We are trying at the moment to actually set-up a training programme for this summer so we can actually entice a few operators into working in our industry. Either machine operators, chainsaw operators maybe sawmill or yard operators for looking after firewood, packaging, deliveries etc.
“We’ve lots of different openings for the right people, but we just feel over the last 10 years that it’s very hard to get those type of people. So, we’ve started to go into the schools now and see can we start training some of those that are interested in this type of industry.”
As well as this, Brophy Timber Services Ltd’s Managing Director sees an opportunity to continuing expanding the mechanical side of the business and also in biomass given the current escalating fuel prices.
“In our forestry sector, we’re probably going a little bit more into the biomass and we have been dabbling in it all along and we’re getting a little bit busier in it now again.
“We feel that the war in Ukraine should bring to the forefront the potential for biomass in this country, as opposed the coal, oil and gas.
“So, we feel that if any government is gonna wake up to these things, they’re going to have to wake up very shortly. We’re looking at developing more markets on that front as well and, I suppose, localised markets with hotels, swimming pools etc.
“They’re the more exciting things that we’re aiming for,” he concluded.
Brophy Timber Services Ltd
Mob: 087 223 6454
E-mail: [email protected]
First published in Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 10 No 5, September/October 2022