“See this,” says Tina Mertens, pointing to a patch of milky fluid dribbling down the trunk of a spruce, “It looks as if someone’s daubed white paint on this tree, but this is actually the work of bark beetles. The females burrow into the bark to lay their eggs, and the sap oozes out of the holes they make.”
Bark beetles are a persistent problem in Northwest Germany, where Tina Mertens and partner Arne Mertens run a tree management company, Baumpflege Mertens. The firm has been called in by the owners of a woodland adventure park near Surwold, where the insects are creating concern. “Last winter, we had to take down a significant portion of the park’s trees to get rid of the beetles, but now they’re back,” explains Tina. The park offers various attractions, including climbing platforms and zip line rides amongst the treetops. Visitor safety, therefore, depends on strong, healthy trees, and that implies dealing swiftly with bark beetles whenever they’re detected.
“Once a tree’s got beetles in it, there’s not much choice but to take it down,” Tina continues. “The larvae feed on the soft wood just under the bark, loosening it and gradually killing the tree, so it pays to nip the problem in the bud if you can.”
With buildings, healthy trees and elevated structures nearby, logger-style felling of whole trees by cutting at the base isn’t an option. Infected trees have to be taken down in sections, starting from the top. “Arne goes up in the cherry picker and takes off a few meters at a time with a chainsaw, then lowers it down. My job is tidying everything up at ground level using the skid steer,” adds Tina.
Mertens’ machinery fleet includes two Vermeer CTX100 mini skid steers. As Tina explains, “They’re ideal for this kind of work. Although the park has good access, it’s another matter in amongst the trees. The body of the CTX100 is less than a meter wide and we opted for the wide configuration rubber-drive tracks. I can take it almost anywhere in a setting like this. It gets ten out of ten for maneuverability. And it’s really easy to operate — when we got it, I barely needed to practice with it because the joystick controls are so intuitive. Plus, the chariot-style wraparound platform means I can always see what I’m doing when operating the attachments.”
In the adventure park, Tina is using the mini skid steer with a log grapple and with a brush grapple. “A felled tree that’s got bark beetle in it has to be taken offsite for destruction. Otherwise, the infestation continues to spread. We take all the limbs and foliage off the trunk sections with a small chainsaw. That creates a lot of brush, which needs to be gathered up for chipping. Using the brush grapple, I can shift a lot of material on my own in a short space of time. Without it, we’d need additional labor to move all the brush, which would be much more expensive. Once the brush is out of the way, the trunk sections need to go on the trailer for removal. All in all, there’s a lot of to-and-fro, and switching the grapples over for the different jobs. So being able to change attachments quickly and easily onsite is an absolute must for us.”
Pest control is by no means Mertens’ only field of activity. “We’re all-around tree care and forestry contractors,” confirms Arne. “As well as business-to-business services, we do work for local authorities and for private households. It’s very varied: we fell trees, and we do site clearance, crown cuts and pruning, chipping and stump cutting.”
Until 2016, Mertens used to subcontract the stump cutting. Then Arne made a strategic decision to invest in a Vermeer SC362 stump cutter. “Private households want a contractor who can take care of everything. So adding stump removal to our capabilities has really paid off. For example, just after we bought our first stump cutter, we got hired to deal with a number of overgrown trees that were threatening a property in Westoverledingen. A mixture of broadleaf and evergreens: beautiful trees, but they’d been allowed to get out of control. They were shading the whole garden with their roots extending right up the foundations of the house, not to mention the risk of large limbs or even a whole tree coming down in a gale.”
In a single day, Mertens was able to take down a spruce, remove several spreading boughs from a chestnut, reduce the crown of a beech and prune back several other trees. The firm also chipped all the brush and took out the spruce stump. “Speed and efficiency are really important,” stresses Arne. “For one thing, customers don’t like disruption, so being able to wrap things up quickly goes well. But it’s also a question of business economics: turning a profit depends on getting work done within fixed time frames.” Understandably, therefore, Arne found his new 26-kW SC362 stump cutter a real asset, with its top-end torque of well over 70 Nm. The 43-centimeter high-speed cutter wheel also features AutoSweep® control system monitoring which continuously adjusts engine speed and sweep rate for maximum efficiency.
“It was one of the first times we used the stump cutter,” recalls Arne. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow! It packs quite a punch!’ Especially for its size. In our line of work, access is often an issue. On that job in Westoverledingen, the only way in was through a narrow gap between the customer’s carport and the neighbor’s house. Not many stump cutters would have fitted.” Being petrol-driven, the SC362 is also light: a real advantage when turf damage needs to be minimized. “The spruce was standing in a little island at the edge of the lawn. Having a maneuverable, small-footprint machine meant that everything outside the island was virtually untouched. When we were done, you would barely know that there had ever been a tree there.”
Another important field of activity for Mertens is dealing with storm damage. “We’ve been offering a 24-hour emergency response service for some years now,” says Arne. “Trees that have come down on buildings, trees that are blocking roads, trees that are fouling overhead cables … you name it! You never know what to expect. You’ve got to be ready for anything.”
Accordingly, Mertens has an impressive fleet of vehicles and machines. “We’ve invested a lot in the machinery park,” confirms Arne. “But we don’t have capital to burn. Every machine has to pay for itself by reducing the time and labor needed to get the job done. That’s why we love the Vermeer mini skid steers: we’ve got two, because they’re so versatile. We use them on all sorts of jobs, mainly with the grapples, but also with bucket attachments, for moving spoil, brush and logs, and they can do a lot more besides.”
Arne and Tina are both sociable, outgoing people. And they run Baumpflege Mertens in their own image. “Communication is very important, both for marketing and for networking within the industry,” says Tina. “We use Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, as well as the website, of course. We promote our services, we give advice on things like processionary moth infestations and we exchange information with other arborists. We like to have a bit of fun with some of the photos and videos, but in the end, it’s about profiling the business and promoting expertise.”
Against that background, Arne really appreciates the support Mertens gets from Vermeer. “We have a strong relationship with the German Vermeer dealer. It’s a very customer-focused company, always ready to talk issues over, provide support with maintenance and training, discuss ways of improving productivity.”
Mertens’ motto is “Made for this.” It certainly seems that Arne and Tina were made for the work they do. And Vermeer for them.
This article contains third-party observations, advice or experiences that do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Vermeer Corporation, its affiliates or its dealers. Testimonials and/or endorsements by customers in specific circumstances may not be representative of normal circumstances experienced by all customers.
Vermeer Corporation reserves the right to make changes in engineering, design and specifications; add improvements; or discontinue manufacturing at any time without notice or obligation.
Equipment shown is for illustrative purposes only and may display optional accessories or components specific to their global region. Please contact your local Vermeer dealer for more information on machine specifications.
Vermeer, the Vermeer logo and AutoSweep are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries. © 2020 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.