From Family Roots to Fiber

For 30 years, the Schrock family business has served as a link between waste wood producers and home heating.
By Alison Lee | February 23, 2022

In 1992, Dale Schrock founded Fiber By-Products, a full-service wood waste diversion company that prevents some 150,000 tons of wood waste from being landfilled each year. If Schrock were around today, he would tell you that he didn’t launch business by design, but rather, by necessity. Prior to 1992, the large poultry barns on Schrock’s farm meant lots of wood shavings, and he was always looking for a better way of doing things, according to his sons, three of whom now run the business. He sought to recycle rather than waste, so he began with creating animal bedding. This soon extended beyond his own farm into other local farms, and it wasn’t long before surrounding businesses were impressed with his service and method. According to Cory Schrock, who is now general manager, it was very much a “We see what you’re doing, and we like it.” From there, Schrock’s business launched itself into a service-based company that served as a home for wood waste from local saw mills and wood product manufacturers.

Along with his four sons—besides Cory, there are Chad, Brad and Ryan—Dale incorporated the company in 1994, and they moved off the family farm to build their business and extend their service area. Now, they were fulfilling bedding for all types of farms and creating wood flour for fillers and nonhazardous liquid absorption. Over time, Schrock’s sons took over the operations, each lending their strengths in different areas in order to contribute to the company’s longstanding success. By 2002, they were overwhelmed with the product residuals they were collecting, but there was a problem—at the time, the animal bedding market wasn’t large enough to match the volume they could produce. Now, the Schrocks’ focus shifted to finding other ways to utilize the wood fiber, and it wasn’t long before pellet production was the primary enterprise, with animal bedding market becoming a supporting operation.

A Competitive Edge
In 2005, the Schrocks purchased property in White Pigeon, Michigan, to develop and construct a wood pellet manufacturing plant, all while continuing to support the local need for animal bedding. Just two years later, the pellet plant was in full operation. Today, it sits on 35 acres, running operations 24 hours, 6 days a week.  The plant is the largest pellet production facility in Michigan, with a 300-mile radius for distribution, primarily servicing the Great Lakes area as well as parts of Indiana and northern Ohio.

After Dale passed away unexpectedly in 2011, three of his four sons (Cory, Chad and Brad) continued to be involved with the business, and they’ve witnessed its evolution from a small animal bedding operation on their family farm to a business that employs a team of 70 and runs over 20 freightliners and nearly 250 semitrailers. Their vision of pursuing pellet production on a grander scale was successfully achieved, and continues to advance.

But since when does a pellet production plant require so many trucks and trailers? Fiber By-Products falls outside the standard kind of service, Cory and Chad explain. Meaning, they are in the unique business of owning and operating their own fleet of semi-trucks and live-bottom, self-unloading trailers. With a leg up on competitors, the obvious advantage is cutting out both the cost of a third-party vendor, and the potential of failing to provide the statement service the company been known for since its inception. It has also allowed them to establish their own service garage that not only maintains and repairs its own equipment, but services the public, too. “We started as a service company and this is a way to extend additional support to the community,” Cory says. Coppercoin Garage and Coppercoin Transport Inc. are both fully licensed and insured entities that support the pellet plant and distinctly set them apart in the industry. Their garage is ASE certified, state of Michigan tested and staffed with certified mechanics who can repair medium and heavy-duty trucks and trailers, with a specialization in walking floor trailer repairs and parts. “Service first, production second,” Cory says. This is what Dale would want.

The wood waste that arrives at Fiber By-Products is always residuals or by-products of another industry or vendor within a 50-mile radius of the plant. Cory and Chad emphasize that they are not in the business of sourcing material or cutting down trees—waste material only. Chad emphasizes, “It’s important to us that we continue to provide an energy that’s both green on the front end, as well as the back.” Their entire process is waste-free, in fact. They house a dryer on-site that helps reduce moisture in their collection and ensure they’re efficiently converting the wood waste into quality product. And since Coppercoin Transport Inc. offers the opportunity for a vendor to occupy one of their trailers on-site, it enables manufacturers to dispose of their waste faster and more efficiently. This allows the Fiber By-Products team to pick up and collect in a timely manner, even daily, and help reduce the number of weather elements that may affect the residue, another notable advantage of owning their own fleet.

Not many producers have the ability to store surplus inventory indoors—most store their excess supply outside, with potential to experience losses due to the weather. Fiber By-Products is able to store its product in buildings, where it’s ready when the demand calls. The plant was built to protect the product and allow space to store it in its dense pellet form, versus loose shavings. Since they know supply and demand rarely meet, their philosophy is to produce both in and off season. “If we don’t have it today, we won’t sell it tomorrow,” Cory says. “We want to make sure we remain consistent with our vendors. We really value the long-term relationships regardless of what the collection and supply look like.”

Today, Fiber By-Products produces roughly 85,000 tons of wood pellets each year, well over double its initial production of 30,000 tons when the plant started up in 2006. Wood shavings for animal bedding, solidification or boiler fuel are often sold directly to customers by the semi- or truckloads. Pellets are packaged into 40-pound bags, loaded up 50 bags per skid, and sold wholesale to big box stores as well as independent businesses such as hearth and home shops and local hardware and retail stores.

The company’s final product is wood flour with strict quality-control requirements. Chad is emphatic with the company’s commitment to quality. “Low-quality waste that does not meet our standards and specifications does not get included in our pellets or flour,” he says. Animal bedding or solidification for nonhazardous liquid absorption only.

Looking Ahead
As for growth, Chad and Cory highlight the BTU Act as a potential stimulator. As it stands now, if consumers purchase and install a wood or pellet stove or a larger residential biomass heating system with a thermal efficiency rating of at least 75%, then they can claim a tax credit of 26% until the end of 2022. That credit will drop to 22% in 2023. As of early February, there had not been a renewal to that bill for 2024, but proposed legislation and industry advocates are pushing for it. “This tax incentive bodes well for the pellet industry and consumers,” Cory adds. “A pellet stove doesn’t require a chimney, so just about all residential homes can install one. There is a heightened awareness about the benefits of using biomass fuel sources to decrease carbon emissions and provide cleaner air. A pellet stove offers the refined wood fuel to really do that.”

The company spent much of the last year identifying its five-year plan, Cory says. While always in pursuit for production growth, he adds, they want to be deliberate with their plant’s efficiencies—i.e., concentrating their efforts on equipment changes and upgrades, better insight with tracking and record keeping, increasing internal operations and managing maintenance. “These are the things that it takes to continually evolve and meet the industry’s demands.”

While the Schrocks carry on their father’s legacy, they find themselves emerged in day-to-day business. Yet, they’re always looking ahead in pursuit of ways to improve, upgrade and maximize productivity for a business that is not only their livelihood, but a mission they believe in. Dale would be proud.

Contact: Anna Simet