A passion for trees and timber prompted South Australian arborist Luke Blackburne to return to his first love.
Fresh out of school in 1994, entrepreneurial Luke moved to South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, bought a chainsaw, a ute and a trailer, and established a business, Forest Floor Timberware and Treecutting Services. He trimmed trees, collected timber and made furniture.
Six years later, he bought a landscaping and building supplies yard which he built up over a decade to a major business, operating seven days a week with five employees.
But that left him no time to work outdoors in the industry he’s passionate about and eroded time with his young family. So in 2012 Luke sold the yard and went back to his original trade, reviving his company as Forest Floor Enterprises Pty Ltd, focusing on tree services and mobile sawmilling.
Forest Floor Enterprises has a mobile saw mill, a 3.5 tonne tip truck, a chipper, a 4WD tractor loader, and has just added a Vermeer SC30TX stump cutter to the equipment range.
Luke was very methodical about the purchase, conducting extensive research to compare the advantages and disadvantages of a range of stump grinders on the market. He selected Vermeer because it was a brand with a reputation for quality, durable equipment.
“The Vermeer ticked all the boxes; it beat the competition in all areas. It was far and away the best performing and most robust of them all,” he said. “Vermeer’s been making stump grinders for a long time, so they know what they’re doing.”
Before buying the SC30TX, Luke contracted out stump-grinding work, which was sometimes difficult to co-ordinate. He says the Vermeer is “very low maintenance, user friendly and easy to operate”.
Its first task was 24 stumps ranging from 100mm diameter melaleuca stumps to a 1.4m olive stump in a school yard, and Luke completed the entire job in just under seven hours.
“The SC30TX is fast to move around a jobsite, but its light footprint means there’s no damage to manicured lawns,” he said. “For Forest Floor Enterprises, it has quickly become one of the business’s core machines.
“Almost half our jobs now involve stump work, so owning our own stump grinder had become a must.”
From a home base at Carrickalinga, a small coastal town about 60km south of Adelaide, Luke services the nearby townships of Normanville and Yankalilla, and travels to Adelaide’s southern suburbs and into the Adelaide Hills.
He deliberately keeps the business simple. It operates with the help of two trusted, reliable subcontractors – a tree climber and a wood cutter – who are available when required. Luke’s partner, Kirsty, assists with the bookwork.
Luke promotes the company through advertisements in local newspapers and a Facebook page, which showcases some of Forest Floor Enterprises’ jobs and is easier to manage than a website. “I’m not sure it generates work, but I show it to prospective clients and it certainly adds credibility.” Luke’s happy to be “back on the tools”, having developed his passion for timber and woodcutting through building wooden boats with his father and growing up in the heavily-wooded Hunter Valley.
He is enhancing his practical skills with a Certificate III in Arboriculture, which he will upgrade to a diploma in 2014.
But, best of all, Luke no longer works seven days a week. That means he and Kirsty can spend more time with their daughter Sophie, 4, and son James, 2, and Luke can again indulge in a love of surfing and the occasional weekend race in his rally car.