Technological Innovations in Logging Operations
Common beliefs suggest that loggers are slow to adopt new technologies, resist change, and are risk averse. Farmers, tradesmen, and others who spend lots of time outdoors are often included in these observations. Many who grew up around logging and agriculture might argue these presumptions. The recent report Status of the Minnesota Logging Sector in 2021 asked, “For each of the following technologies, please indicate whether you already have it available in your home or office [and in-woods] for business use or if you plan to use it.” (Question 45). Although the question asked only about the technology used “in-woods” and “in-office,” the Minnesota Logger Education Program (MLEP) is using those results to develop and deliver tools to loggers to help them improve efficiencies not only “in-woods” and “in-office” but also to help them grow, personally, as business owners or employees.
Certain objections and barriers to testing and implementing technology use for logging operations have been identified and include remote areas with limited internet connectivity, harsh working conditions where extreme climates and user resistance may challenge the electronic tools to adopt new tools.
In August 2023, MLEP launched a complete overhaul of its Constituent Relationship Manager (CRM), a.k.a. database, [online] Learning Management System (LMS), and Online Reporting System (ORS). Logging business owners now have the capability to manage their company information and employee/staff course registrations 24/7 through an online portal at mlep.org. Stakeholders, such as procurement foresters and agency staff with password-protected access, can review the logger training records and continuing education (CEU) status in real-time. MLEP members (and non-MLEP members, for a fee) have access to a variety of asynchronous online training courses that can be used to supplement, but not supplant, in-person continuing education received through conferences and workshops. Members are offered a series of YouTube videos on how to utilize this new tool.
Although they may not fulfill industry CEU requirements, MLEP offers a variety of additional online tools that complement logging professionals’ formal continuing education. Having learned that many operators now download or stream podcasts while “in-woods” or traveling to job sites, MLEP and others have introduced podcasts such as Minnesota’s Forest Management Guidelines: A Refresher developed with the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFEC) and the University of Minnesota – Extension.
But what about “in-woods” technology? In addition to listening to podcasts and other industry news to remain current on industry developments, loggers report various uses of technological innovations to keep their operations running economically. Those who report running the latest equipment and accessories are on the highest end of the cost spectrum. With new equipment, they report less downtime, greater fuel efficiency, happier operators, faster turn-times, and decreased labor costs on a per-unit basis. Of course, this comes with significantly increased capital costs. Lower cost technology used “in-woods” include GPS and mapping tools such as those offered through their equipment manufacturer, Avenza Maps and OnX Maps, drones, emergency locator systems, and tools such as Garmin Inreach and the satellite emergency location sharing tool on the Apple iPhone 15. Not a MLEP workshop goes by where there isn’t speculation like “Maybe when our grandkids are our age, there will be autonomous trucks and logging equipment.”
The line between “in-office” and “in-woods” continues to blur. Only the largest operators have a formal office administrator. Minnesota logging operations are predominantly multi-generational family operations. A spouse or child may do some “part-time” work on keeping the books, ensuring owners and staff are registered for and have completed any required continuing education. As with most small businesses, the company office moves with the owner. It may be in the cap of a pickup, the cab of a harvester, at a timber sale, or at the kitchen table. Calls, texts, and emails are made on the go. Many report that the always-connected capabilities that come with smartphones are both a blessing and a curse.
Can we say with any certainty that loggers are more or less risk averse than other small business owners? Can we say with any certainty that loggers adopt or avoid new technology at a rate different from other small business owners? Anecdotal observations suggest that since 2020, the technology adoption rate by loggers has increased. Registering for MLEP membership and courses online is by far the most common, followed by via phone, with few registering via mail. Yet, most formal logger education still occurs at conferences and workshops, with only a small minority asking for increased online courses. There is still something to be said about getting together with one’s peers for some education and a little fellowship.
 Blinn, Charles R.; Nolle, David A. (2023). Status of the Minnesota Logging Sector in 2021. University of Minnesota. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/257129.