Taking One with the Team
Extension Trains Logging Crew Members
Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson
Mississippi’s 2017 Outstanding Logger of the Year is quick to credit his employees for his business’s success, but he prefers to call them part of his team.
“I’m very proud for our team,” says Rodney Johnson, who has operated Johnson Timber in Pheba since 1997 and has 50 years in the timber industry. “This award reflects the hard work our crews put in every day.”
His team, which consists of three logging crews moving more than 100 truckloads of lumber a day in Mississippi and Texas, is among the most respected in the Magnolia State because Johnson stresses the importance of training and certification. He sends his employees to Professional Logger Management (PLM) courses administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
“I want all my crews to take PLM classes through the MSU Extension Service and get certified because I want them to be up-to-date on the latest safety regulations and best management practices in the industry,” Johnson says. “We are regularly audited to make sure we are running our business responsibly, following OSHA guidelines at work sites, and protecting the environment.
“The classes offered through the MSU Extension Service play a key part in promoting good logging ethics,” he adds, “and that’s important to me.”
Dr. John Auel, an assistant Extension professor in forestry, oversees the PLM program, which is taught to loggers across the state. Course topics include sustainable forestry, water quality, erosion prevention, timber harvesting, and environmental biodiversity.
“Each logging crew is required to have at least one person trained under PLM guidelines,” Auel said. “Rodney wants all of his crew members to have that training.”
Johnson is a fourth-generation logger. He bought his father’s pulpwood yards when he retired 21 years ago and expanded into logging and worked with landowners across the state. His company manages timber and does select pine-plantation thinning and final harvesting operations.
“I started with my father when I was 6, riding in the truck with him,” Johnson said. “I had a pulpwood truck in high school, and I would come home after school and cut pulpwood.”
His sons, Michael Patterson and Joseph Johnson, manage his logging crews and procure wood to harvest from landowners.
“Joseph manages two of the logging crews,” Johnson explains. “Michael manages the other crew, oversees our day-to-day operations at our wood yard, and leads monthly safety meetings.”
“The classes offered through the MSU Extension Service play a key part in promoting good logging ethics, and that's important to me.”
Safety is the component of the occupation Johnson emphasizes most—not just on job sites, but back and forth between them.
“He installed GPS units on his trucks to make sure his loggers are driving safely and obeying speed and load limits ,” Auel says. “He’s very proactive in following best management practices, and that’s one reason he’s so well respected in the industry.”
Versatility is another quality Johnson’s loggers have. He requires crew members to train on each piece of equipment involved in their daily tasks.
“Our goal is to get each employee to learn each piece of equipment effectively,” he says. “That way, if someone is out, someone else can step in, and we don’t lose any production.”
The Mississippi Forestry Association awards recipients on a yearly basis. Timber industry colleague Justin Dewberry was one of Johnson’s nominators.
“Rodney deals with landowners with his deep-rooted Christian values and beliefs,” Dewberry said. “He treats them and their land like he would want his own to be treated. He manages around 1,000 acres of his own timberland both for wildlife and timber production and is always willing to help anyone with questions about timber and land management.”