Madison County Wood Products Inc.

High-level integration and recycling in the wood products production cycle
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
John Carioti

Just  90 miles south  of St. Louis, Madison County Wood Products Inc. (MCWP) is a vertically integrated logging, timber purchasing, saw mill, pallet manufacturer and delivery operation. MCWP offers a range of hardwood and softwood products from a number of different species. Red, black and white oak dominate sales, but the company also offers hickory, maple and other hardwood species. MCWP specializes in pallet production, but also manufactures wood frames, ties, timbers, mulch, wood chips and dust.

Self-sufficient business

The leadership of the combined second- and third-generation, family-owned business spans more than 45 years in the industry. “We’re a totally integrated company,” says James “Jim” Kesting, president of MCWP. “About 30 percent of the raw materials we use come from our own land with the balance from private, federal and state timber sales. We have our own logging crews and we also do pallet manufacturing and we cut railroad ties. We also produce the lumber that goes into the barrels for the wine and whiskey industry. We really do a number of things and we’re pretty much a full-service operation.”

This level of self-sufficiency and extensive industry experience benefits the company’s customers immensely, saving them more dollar for dollar. “We know wood and we know pallets, but even more, we know how to solve material handling problems of all shapes and sizes because that’s how we deliver better value to our customers,” says Kesting.

MCWP traces its roots back to 1970 and was officially incorporated in 1981 by Kesting and Douglas J. Gaines. With this partnership, the founders combine years of individual experience in the wood products industry.

“I started out with a high school friend,” recounts Kesting. “We owned and operated a packaging company and we slowly got into pallet manufacturing and the box business. My partner’s box business fell into trouble and the pallet side continued. The pallet business has been the longest running and stuck the longest.”

Looking to make an acquisition, Kesting found another area family-owned pallet manufacturer that was in trouble and going into bankruptcy. “Today, I run the business with my son and this partner and his son,” says Kesting. MCWP has grown to employ 155 personnel.

Producing pallets wasting less raw material

Although MCWP produces a range of wood products, the bulk of the company’s sales are generated from lower-grade raw materials. “This is a larger percentage of the log and it ends up going into the pallet industry,” says Kesting. “When I started in the business back in the ‘70s, pallets were basically thought of as disposable after being used. Fortunately, today, there are recyclers and wood reclamation companies that take pallets and repair them and they’re used multiple times before they end up being ground up.”

Kesting says the pallet industry has grown tremendously and the results are more reuse and repurposing of the product. “Once they’ve reached their useable life and are ground up, the ground material is made into colored landscape mulch, wood pellets or boiler fuel” continues Kesting. “This is a great example of how pretty much everything we produce today is reused in some fashion or another.”

Kesting assures nearly every part of the tree — except the top — is utilized. “I think someday down the road the tops will be used as well, it’s just too labor intensive right now and there’s not enough returned value to spend the time to pull them out,” he explains. “But every part of the tree is used somehow. Our sawdust goes to paper mills and they burn it in their boilers to create steam and electricity and we also produce wood chips that are processed to make paper.”

MCWP supplies pallets to a number of large customers, particularly major manufacturers. “We supply pallets to a number of Fortune 500 companies,” says Kesting. “The demand in the food and chemical industry for pallets is tremendous and we serve concrete block manufacturers — really any industry that is doing a lot of shipping.”

Protecting resources

While products such as pallets are an important part of keeping global trade moving, there are still groups that will always be against cutting trees, says Kesting. But he explains there is a way to maintain the wood products industry in a responsible, sustainable manner. “We don’t clear cut unless a stand of timber is poor and we replant another species that will do well — we selective cut,” he explains. “Part of our company mission is to maintain the health, diversity and productivity of our managed forests and to meet the needs of present and future generations. We don’t want to see forests eliminated. Trees are our livelihood.”

Protecting natural resources has a direct impact on clean water, wildlife and delicate ecosystems: “Poor forestry can cause soil erosion, fire hazards and displace wildlife,” says Kesting. “MCWP strives to make only a positive impact on ecosystems through responsible forestry and best management practices of our natural resources.”

Kesting says MCWP is also making an effort to research opportunities to get involved with carbon-neutral wood and alternative bio products. “Environmental regulations have made it harder for coal plants to operate, not only in Missouri, but in the U.S. and around the world,” he says. “MCWP is presently researching opportunities to use carbon-neutral wood in some form to mix with coal and allow these plants to operate into the future.”

“There is currently a lot of research being done on alternative bio products that could be mixed with coal, posting positive results to meet emission guidelines,” adds Kesting. “Studies have shown this is a viable solution to mothballing plants and building new with stack scrubbers that in affect will cause utility bills to be higher for industrial and consumer users into the future. Wood residue such as sawdust, when processed in different ways, can produce excellent BTU value, potentially be stored outside and fulfill the needs of extending the life of coal power plants along with other bio agricultural products like switch grass and corn stalks. These are not meant to be a replacement, only an additive of a product that is going to waste.”

While Kesting notes that this potential solution is still in the works, needing serious investment in time and research, MCWP is always looking ahead for innovative solutions to age-old problems. “We’re doing what we can and we try to be forward thinking in our industry,” he says.

Business continues to move steadily for MCWP and the company has made more investments in recent upgrades. “We have made additional investments in skidders, loaders and log trucks to ensure continuous supply of products to our customers,” adds Kesting.

Through vertical integration from raw materials to materials handling and special in-house manufacturing capabilities, Madison County Wood Products offers a competitive advantage in cost savings for its customers and remains a steward in protecting the future of forestry.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Cooper Machine
McBride Mack Sales Inc.
Penn Lumbermens Mutual