New equipment purchases and a second composting operation offer proof that there are silver linings in this economic cloud.
Although most of the country is just now starting to see real signs of an economic turnaround, New Earth Soils and Compost has for years been quietly—but impressively—holding its own at its Conroe, Texas, location north of Houston. In fact, to meet the steady demand for its bulk and bagged products, the San Antonio-based manufacturer and distributor of mulches, soils and compost has beefed up its material processing effort with a number of capital equipment purchases—including a track-mounted wood waste grinder—and has added a second biosolids composting operation. Things, it would seem, are quite nice deep in the heart of Texas.
Very Organic Roots
Established more than a decade and a half ago, New Earth Compost and Soils was born out of a local meat packing plant’s long-standing need to dispose of manure from its operation. From that single source, it became evident that scores of other businesses in and around the San Antonio area shared equally challenging recycling demands. According to Rob Smith, general manager of the company’s Conroe site, New Earth today offers a full slate of products and services.
“Our company philosophy, ‘Pioneering waste solutions for future generations,’ really of sets the tone for what we do,” he says. “We see the challenges that exist for disposing of green waste products, and have built a business around finding the best solutions possible to minimize their impact—today and down the road.
“To that end, we have 25 to 30 products, including a number of different size and color mulches, different bedding mixes, manure compost and so on, that we sell in bulk, as well as 15 other products that we bag and palletize, both here and at our San Antonio location,” he says. “We do a fairly sizeable volume of brush and tree waste to make that happen. Here in Conroe alone about 9,000 yards of material gets processed each week; the San Antonio location is almost three times the size of ours, so their volumes are obviously much larger: in the 25,000 yards per week range.”
Smith adds that, because their customers have come to rely on the high-quality nature of their products, both locations are adamant about accepting only clean debris for their operation.
“For that reason we don’t accept C&D wood waste, pallets or anything of that nature,” he says. “We focus on only virgin material from area land clearing firms, landscapers, tree care services and so on—that’s served us well, and we’re not about to change.”
Growing the Business
While the company’s San Antonio location has been accepting biosolids from local wastewater treatment facilities for about a decade now, the Conroe location has just now started to do so. The move to make that happen, says Smith, has necessitated some major changes.
“This site was a whirlwind of activity during the six-month construction, which included the addition of a 16-inch-thick, 8-acre concrete pad and a 2.5-acre retention pond, all to begin the biosolids composting operation. This is not only a great addition to our business, it is also diverting all that organic material from the landfill, which is always a good thing.”
Several equipment purchases also assisted in the transition to the biosolids-supplemented operation, including a Komptech MultiStar L2 and a Morbark 6600 Track Wood Hog horizontal grinder, which has already upped production and will be key in providing the material to blend with the Class B biosolids.
“The decision to go with a new horizontal grinder was really based on a number of different things,” says Smith. “For one, because of last year’s drought and ban on burning, we started doing some off-site grinding for land clearing firms—essentially going to their sites to grind the tops and undesirable timber. We had a smaller machine at the time, so we felt that, if we were to continue building that part of the business, a larger grinder would get us into and out of those jobs quickly, allowing us to get back here to support the main operation. Currently, such off-site work is only about 5% to 10% of our business, but we can see that growing. In addition, some of our bigger customers have grinding needs, so this fits that scenario as well. With that capability, we can become more of a solution provider than simply a vendor.”
Also at work was the fact that New Earth had additional machine purchases to make through Doggett Machinery, the local John Deere and Morbark dealer, putting them in a nice bargaining position.
“There is definitely strength in numbers, and Bill Talbot and Doggett Machinery treated us very well as we worked with them to meet our major equipment needs. We also demoed several grinders but eventually, after a trip to Morbark’s plant in Michigan, chose the 6600 Track Hog. Granted, there were a few bumps in the road with Doggett being a new dealer for Morbark, but both have gone above and beyond to ensure that we are successful.”
Smith says that they had not originally intended to purchase a track-mounted grinder; but seeing one in action changed that for them. In retrospect, however, he sees it as one of the best equipment moves they’ve made, particularly in light of feedback he gets from his equipment operators.
“On the off-site jobs, our crews regularly cite the benefits the mobility offers them,” he says. “They love the fact that they can take the grinder to the material instead of vice versa and really like the speed at which the 6600 moves along. Our grinder operator tells me that these types of units generally crawl along slower than a person can walk, but the Morbark has two speeds: ‘Slow’ and ‘Get out of the way.’ That really helps keep production up and allows us to get wrapped up quicker.”
Smith adds that, though the new grinder burns more fuel than their older unit, those added costs are more than offset by the increase in productivity. “We are getting anywhere from double to triple the throughputs we were getting before—I’ll take that trade-off any time,” he says.
New Earth’s Conroe location is something of a showplace for new and specialty equipment, each piece designed to maximize efficiency and productivity. That inventory includes the Komptech star screen, which has already proven invaluable in the compost screening facet of the operation; John Deere loaders with special buckets to aid in the truck loading process; even Australian-based technology to improve accuracy and speed in measuring loads as they enter and leave the yard.
Equally impressive are the buckets with which two of New Earth’s John Deere 644 wheel loaders are equipped. Manufactured by CWS Industries, they offer a rollout capability, which has allowed the Conroe location to eliminate the need for a track loading ramp.
“These buckets feature an additional hydraulic cylinder that affords them an extra-long reach—long enough to top-load our trailers,” says Smith. “So, rather than having to go from the pile to the ramp, back to the pile, and so on, we can now just send the trucker to the pile and load him—over the course of a day there is a real time savings in being able to do that.”
The Same But Better
A pair of PremiereTech AP Series High Level Palletizers working in conjunction with their bagging operation rounds out New Earth’s process. In addition to simply ordering and stacking bags, each palletizer—the operation features two identical lines—also tracks the number of pallets filled, the number of units per minute, the number of rejected bags, the total number of bags, and more.
“On average, we do about 90-100 pallets—roughly 5,400-6,000 bags—each day,” says Smith. “The system is so complete and so automated that we can run that entire bagging/palletizing operation with just two men.”
The new biosolids composting operation became fully functional in January of 2013. Now, says Smith, the Conroe operation essentially mirrors what is happening in San Antonio.
“We are taking what they’ve learned at that location over the years—with regard to production, odor mitigation and so on—and putting it to practice here,” he says. “Conversely, our owner, Clayton Leonard, is also taking what we’ve learned here, how we run our bagging operation, for example, and applying it to their operation. There are a lot of challenges to running a successful composting and soils business, but Mr. Leonard is committed to seeing that it is done right, and that extends all the way to ensuring that we have the best equipment to make it all happen. Between his foresight, our crews and the support of our equipment dealers and suppliers, I’d say we’re in pretty good shape.”