Catch up with PFI in this issue of the Pellet Wire!

May 29, 2020 

In this Week's Pellet Wire:

Executive Director's Notes: Getting Out There 

Last Tuesday I drove to Ladysmith, Wisconsin to check in on PFI Producer Member Indeck Ladysmith and my friends at that plant, including Darren Winchester. I began visiting Indeck Ladysmith in 2013 because it was the closest dedicated wood pellet manufacturing site to my home in suburban Minneapolis and as a trade journalist I was hungry to round out my understanding of the wood pelleting process and my portfolio of photographs of wood pelleting operations. I’ve been back since that first visit in 2013 a handful of times, including a trip just weeks after I accepted the role of Executive Director of the PFI. This time I made the two-and-a-half-hour drive because I thought it was important to mark these strange times with a plant visit, something that heretofore felt very normal indeed.

Ladysmith, Wisconsin lies in northwestern Wisconsin. Wisconsin has both strong agriculture and forestry sectors and Ladysmith lies in the middle of an east-west band that traverses the entire state where the two are intertwined. Woodlots and corn fields can both be found in the vicinity of Ladysmith. Ladysmith and the communities like it in northern Wisconsin are a sterling example of how complicated deploying an appropriate response to this pandemic has proven to be. Like the rest of the state of Wisconsin, Ladysmith shut down in the early days of the pandemic as Governor Tony Evers issued his emergency stay-at-home orders. In the early days of the pandemic while everyone was still trying to gauge the impact, the order met little resistance. As the weeks passed, however and the data accumulated rural communities in Wisconsin began to wonder if a “one-size fits all” approach made the most sense. Rusk County where Ladysmith lies has had 4 positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Neighboring Taylor county just logged its first COVID-19 case last week.

Fortunately for Darren and his team in Ladysmith, the state aligned with CDC guidance early in the pandemic identifying wood pellet manufacturers as an “essential business” and they haven’t had to shut down. What the production team has had to consider however is how to operate and keep everyone safe, despite the relatively low number of cases in their area.

As Darren and I talked, it became clear that COVID-19 preparedness at the plant is as much about a posture of awareness as it is about specific, immediately identifiable actions. In past Pellet Wire editions I’ve talked about contact free fiber deliveries and outbound product. Unless you had been at a pellet plant before and observed drivers come and go from the main office this change might escape notice. Similarly, an expansion of the areas cleaned and an increase in the frequency of those cleanings may seem subtle but the plant has never been cleaner. Most notable was the control room, the operation’s nerve center. Pre-COVID, this area was cleaned not by the cleaning service but intermittently by plant personnel. The room sparkles and smells like disinfectant and Darren assures me no one is complaining. Lunches are staggered to minimize traffic in the break room. As Darren and I talked, it became clear that the biggest challenge to come from COVID-19 may end up being company morale. Pellet grilling was a staple of Ladysmith’s production week, typically on Fridays and since we are talking about Wisconsin here, that means pellet grilled bratwurst. For now that’s on hold, replaced with once a week lunch purchased from local businesses and packaged individually. Indeck Ladysmith’s team is tight knit and COVID-19 has made some of the plant’s rituals and customs untenable for now.

In spite of everything else, the team at Indeck Ladysmith is excited about their chances at having a banner year. The team committed itself to figuring out how to best fold BBQ pellets into their production portfolio and that effort is really beginning to pay off. Be sure to check out the Forbes story linked in the News section which attempts to flesh out the impact of nationwide stay-at-home orders on BBQ pellet appliances. 

Like so many of our other members that I’ve spoken to, Darren and his team are committed to do anything that promises to increase overall safety at their plant while recognizing that every employee counts on, and needs a consistent paycheck.

To the team at Indeck Ladysmith, thanks for having me. As soon as it's safe to do so, I’d like to be a part of the return to pellet grilling Fridays. 

Tim Portz 
Executive Director

Photo of the Week: Indeck Ladysmith Deploys Social Distancing Measures at Plant

Darren Winchester at PFI-Member Indeck Ladysmith shows off one of the plant’s common sense social distancing solutions. Here, a delivery cart for inbound and outbound packages makes contact-free package exchanges a breeze. 

Send Us Photos! Help us build a collection of photos of our members, their pellets mills, and product! Send images to Tim Portz at [email protected].

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Have News to Share on Pellet Wire?

We'd love to feature your company's news in a future Pellet Wire! Let us be the first to know about your company's recent developments, and we will share them with the broader pellet fuels industry.

Please get in touch with Tim Portz via email at [email protected] with information on your company's growth, job openings, promotions, or other news. 

Join a PFI Committee

We welcome and encourage all interested PFI members to get involved in our committees. There are many opportunities to help steer the association. No matter where your expertise and interests lie, we have a committee that will suit you. Help us plan our next conference, shape our policy agenda, lead communications outreach, or grow the PFI Standards Program. Visit PFI's Committee Page for more information.  

Industry News

Hawkins Wright surveys wood pellet manufacturers about impact of COVID-19 on their operation (Biomass Magazine)

The results of a survey by Hawkins Wright found 58 percent of wood pellet producers felt COVID-19 was negatively impacting their business, but only 33 percent reported that they had reduced production as a result.
Read Full Article

HPBA Applauds EPA Proposal to Extend Step 1 Sell Through Period, Highlights Difficulty Retailers Had Meeting Original Deadline Because of COVID-19 (HPBA)

HPBA is very pleased that the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to allow an additional period for retailers to sell solid fuel heating products that meet the EPA’s Step 1 standards. The dramatic impact of COVID-19 on retail activity has severely limited retailers’ ability to meet the May 15, 2020 deadline in the original rule.
Read Full Article

Pellet Grilling Appliance Manufacturers Report Impacts and Opportunities Presented by increased Stay at Home Provisions (Forbes) PFI Members Featured

Much like the rest of the world, you might find yourself cooking at home a lot more than you used to. Whether you’re staying home to avoid the pandemic or you are just ready to usher in spring and summer weather, you’ll want to learn how to make proper, delicious meals. 
Read Full Article

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More Industry News

Pellet Plant Safety Rooted in Planning, Practice (Biomass Magazine)
PFI Member Featured

In the aftermath of a 2019 grain silo fire and explosion that resulted in the death of a firefighter and serious injury of an employee, many conclusions were made in a subsequent OSHA investigation report.

Read Full Article

February Pellet Data Published in EIA Monthly Densified Biomass Report (EIA)

As of February 2020, the monthly data collection included 84 operating manufacturers of densified biomass fuel. These manufacturers had a total production capacity of 11.85 million tons per year and collectively had an equivalent of 2,247 full-time employees.

Read Full Report

Understanding Ash (Biomass Magazine)
PFI Member Featured

When it comes to biomass fuels, it really doesn’t matter which market you serve, ash content is always a very important parameter. 

Read Full Article

Loggers, truckers uncertain about future after Jay Mill explosion (Sun Journal)

Many loggers and truckers around Maine who send their pulpwood to the Androscoggin Mill in Jay are uncertain what the future holds for them. There are a lot of indirect businesses that will also feel the squeeze.

Read Full Article

EPA delivers proposal to amend wood heater regulations to OMB (Biomass Magazine)

The U.S. EPA on April 30 delivered a proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget that amends standards of performance for new residential wood heaters, new residential hydronic heaters, and forced-air furnaces.

Read Full Article


Pellet Fuels Institute

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