Trewirgie Timber Drives Successes Further

By Etienne Nagel, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author


“Diversification has proven to be an ideal strategy in dealing with fluctuating and volatile demand scenarios,” Ben says. “The strategy is to grow different species on different sites for different markets and applications.  In doing so, we’ve been able to adapt to changing markets and react to market opportunities.” 

“I'm a fourth-generation farmer, simply improving on the legacy of  those that went before me, creating the beauty and potential of  this place.”—Ben Seele

The hills above Ben Seele’s Orange Farm Sawmill that forms part of Trewirgie Timber’s operations in the Kwa-Zulu Natal midlands of South Africa


It starts with trees.

Pine, Eucalyptus and Wattle combine to deliver the feedstock for Trewirgie’s product mix.

Pine is grown mainly for sawtimber and processed at the Orange farm Sawmill at Baynesfield, while wattle is managed for pulp and bark production. Several Eucalyptus species and clonal hybrids are grown for sawtimber production as well as pulp and eucalyptus oil from leaf harvesting.

Poles, pallet material, beef and avocados provide further choice with the final commission to tread softly on this place, the guiding principle that drives Trewirgie’s successes home.

Pine from Trewirgie’s commercial plantations. Roughy 600 ha is planted to pine, the same for wattle with the remainder of the 2400 ha planted to gum.
Wattle bark stripped and ready for tannin production.


The conservation management principles used on the farm are noteworthy.  It starts with ensuring that timber farming activities do not pollute or degrade the environment and that specific sites are left fallow to protect the eco-systems. Unplanted areas are used for grazing, but careful veld management retains its conservation value.

Fire breaks, riparian zones, indigenous forests and grasslands are kept free of invasive weeds, with this rehabilitation a crucial part of Ben’s soil management practices. Fire is sparingly used to maintain compartments with cool burns retaining the long-term productivity and sustainability of  the soil.

Harvesting and silviculture work on the farms is done in-house, using traditional motor-manual felling systems, cross-cutting with chainsaws, and stripping bark off the gum and wattle by hand. The brush is stacked neatly to facilitate easy access and re-establishment of the compartment.

He only uses contractors to help with harvesting from time to time when he needs to deliver a lot of timber to market in a short space of time. This gives sustainable employment to 237 employees working in harvesting, silviculture, sawmilling, transport, security, cattle, and avocado production.

The overall theme of  Trewirgie is one of  structured, astute management with a careful balance between profitability and low impact.

A Wood-Mizer LT70 Remote working at Orange Farm Sawmill large



Ben’s journey in sawmilling started after his studies and a brief sojourn in Norway and the UK, working as chainsaw operator and harvester. His return to SA in 2001 saw his father, Carl, assisting him in buying his first Wood-Mizer LT30 sawmill to cut logs from the family timber operation.

The proceeds from the sawmill then allowed Ben to buy timber farms in Richmond, Baynesfield and Dargle, consolidate the agri-business under the Trewirgie banner and lease the family farm in 2013 to generate a third of the total operation’s income from sawmilling.

The highly productive sawmill has a monthly intake of around 1000 tonnes, with a yield or output of approximately 500 cubic metres out. Recovery is between 43-55 % depending on the log sizes.

The mill is built around two processing lines, one for large diameter logs and the other to process thinnings. Both use Wood-Mizer equipment except for a Pinnacle Multirip on the thinnings line.

A Wood-Mizer EG800 Multirip processing slabs into sawn timber. Two Wood-Mizer single head resaws takes care of recovery.
A Wood-Mizer TVS removing two sides off logs from Trewirgie’s thinnings operations with the cant then passing through a multirip.


The large-diameter line consists of a Wood-Mizer LT70 Remote and LT30 producing slabs that pass through an EG800 multirip. Sawn material is then kiln dried for use in door manufacturing

The thinning line consists of a Wood-Mizer Twin Vertical Saw (TVS) that squares the log on two sides before passing through a Pinnacle Multirip.

The output from the thinnings line and material recovered from sideboards with two Wood-Mizer single head resaws goes to bed and lounge suite manufacturers or is used for pallets and fencing or sold wet-off saw for diverse other applications. 

The simplicity of both lines contributes to the efficiency of the operation.

Cants ripped into sawn material require minimal labour with recovery also kept very simple. The mill is highly productive despite the low manual inputs and basic and inexpensive material handling.

Recovery is high; costs are kept low, and a diverse mix of products exit the mill to bolster profits using a renewable, well-managed resource with people also benefitting – the classic triple bottom line result. 


A final thought

It’s a rare privilege to meet a forward-thinking, innovative farmer and sawmiller like Ben Seele. He’s proud of his heritage; he builds into the future understanding of what it’ll take to remain successful in the time to come.

Timber is the ultimate cash crop – it can grow forever if managed well, and it can build businesses that improve lives, and we can sit in its shade.

The finished product ready for kiln drying.
Trewirgie Timber (Pty) Ltd’s Ben Seele on the left together with his sawmill manager, Conrad Strydom.
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