Operations are good at the Vaagen Fibre Mill in Midway, says mill manager Chris Waters.
“We are hitting our targets on quite a few days. We’re over the startup pains and we are just waiting for the market to kick in.”
They are currently working an add-time shift, meaning they tack a half-shift on at the end of the regular eight-hour shift. The mill now has over 50 employees and Waters said about half a dozen employees work a 10-hour shift.
He said he was told earlier this year to go out and get enough logs for two shifts and he did it. “But when the market changed it took all the fun out of it,” Waters said. “So instead we just did the add-time shift.”
The mill goes through about 20 loads of logs per day; they have brought in as many as 60 loads per day, Waters added. “We just wanted to show that we could do it. Now we’ve tapered it back to 30.”
In May Vaagen hired forester Dan Macmaster, who holds a master’s degree in sustainable forest management. He said that on average eight to 10 truck loads of kiln-dried lumber go to Vaagen Brothers mill in Colville, Washington each day to be planed and shipped to market.
He provided a tour of the mill and confirmed that the company’s philosophy of working with others in the resource industry has not changed since they came to Midway just over two years ago.
“Partnerships are very important in this business. It is much better to work with other mills and forest companies than try to battle against them,” Macmaster said. “The forest itself has so much that nobody wants everything in a certain block. So if you can all decide what you need and what works out well we can share the resources.”
Waters is optimistic. He points out that the mill is running well and hitting targets, the company has good working relationships with the Osoyoos Indian Band and BC Timber Sales. He also credits the employees. “We have got a crew that have bought into the Vaagen systems and I think most people appreciate working here.”
He said the mill hired three or four high school graduates this year; and he knows of a couple more who have worked summer shifts and know some of the jobs. He hinted that if the mill could get the second shift going there would be employment for some of them.
He sees value in finding ways to keep young people in the community. “Ranch kids,” explained Waters, “they know how to work and they know how to fix stuff. When you send them out on a job they get stuff done. Local youth are the future of the sawmill.
“We are here for the long run,” said Waters, adding that they have proven that, if market conditions warrant, they can put all the pieces together to make a second shift happen.