This is probably the most important question you might ask! The answer to how much money you can make planting depends on many factors. Find out how you can set your mind in the right frame to make tree planting a solid money-making choice.
Tree planters usually work under a piece-rate based compensation system. The more trees you plant, the more money you make. However, the piece rates (the price per tree) can vary significantly from province to province and from contract to contract. Even on a single contract, there may be a lot of variance in tree prices from block to block. It’s even possible for there to be multiple prices on a single block, which might happen if some parts of the block are a lot more difficult than other parts.
On top of that, the piece-rate compensation systems intersect with provincial minimum wage laws. Sometimes, especially for a new planter, you’ll end up getting compensated with an hourly minimum wage rate until you get fast enough to become a good planter.
Is it possible to make a lot of money when you’re tree planting? The answer is yes, in terms of a high daily wage. Of course, you don’t get something for nothing. In order to make those high daily wages, you first have to put the time in to acquire the skill set needed to be a good planter. Once you’ve learned to plant quickly, you have to put in long hard hours of work.
Even though your earnings per day might seem pretty high, you only have a short time frame in which to plant. The season is never long, perhaps no more than 50 planting days in the spring and summer. For this reason, you have to learn to maximize your daily earnings when the work is available.
It is the short seasons that discourage many planters from taking up planting as a full-time career. This fact is true even with “full-time” planters who have the experience level to get one of the rare jobs starting work in the late winter on Vancouver Island. If they plant through the spring and summer and then do a fall plant in Ontario or Quebec, it is still almost impossible to get more than 120 days of planting work in a year.
That’s why the few hundred “professional” Canadian planters who can get that late winter and early spring work are usually forced to try to fill out their year with alternative types of silviculture-related work. Planters plant the vast majority of Canadian trees (probably over 98%) in the summer months. This includes May, June, and July, and to a much lesser extent, in August.
As already noted, you can expect completely different tree prices depending on where you’re working. Prices get higher the further west you move throughout Canada, but the numbers have been coming into balance over the last couple years. For this reason, the differential is getting to be a lot more narrow. When you factor quality specs into account, planting in Ontario or Quebec can be just as lucrative as planting on the west coast.
Usually, prices in the Maritimes are usually around 7-9 cents per tree. In Quebec and Ontario, prices are more likely to be 8-10 cents per tree. In Alberta, 9-11 cents is common. In BC, prices are usually a minimum of 10 cents. Of course, there are also lots of examples of much higher prices. Prices on Vancouver Island for “coastal” tree planting work are usually at least twenty cents, and frequently above thirty cents per tree. The caveat is that the land is much, much harder! There is no advantage to getting thirty cents per tree on Vancouver Island compared to ten cents in Ontario if you can plant four times as many trees in a single day in Ontario.
When the price varies according to the difficulty of the land, there are a number of factors that companies use to determine prices. Rocky land should have a slightly higher price than sandy dirt. Steep ground should have a slightly higher price than flat ground. Ground with a lot of slash should have a slightly higher price than clean blocks. Of course, sometimes prices are misjudged. Sometimes you’ll see a great price on an easy block, or more often, a low price on a tough block. In general the more difficult the block, the higher the price.
Note that we say “higher” price instead of “better” price. Higher is not always better. Lower is not always worse. At the end of the day, it is the amount of money that you made in the day that should tell you whether or not the price was good. Remember the classic saying, “There is no such thing as bad land, only a bad price.” No matter how bad the land is, if it is priced fairly, there is no reason to complain.
As noted above, each province has minimum wage legislation designed to protect tree planters. It doesn’t always work effectively, but it has been getting much better in the last few years. British Columbia is the only province with minimum wage rules that are specifically designed to protect tree planters. In that province, minimum wage must be calculated from “portal to portal”. This means that your work day starts from when you get into the truck in the morning, and only ends when you return to camp for dinner. In most other provinces, planters simply fall under the same blanket rules as all other workers within the province.
In many places, companies claim that your work day only begins when you start planting trees and ends when you get into the truck at the end of the day. Even if you’re away from camp for work for twelve hours, you might only get marked down as being eligible for eight hours of minimum wage. With the pressure from planters (and planters’ parents) who are complaining to various provincial Employment Standards Branches (labour boards), this situation will probably change in many provinces in the next few years.
No matter what province you work in, it is smart for you to keep a daily diary. Is is in the diary where you write down all your tree prices, number of trees planted, block numbers (if you know them), exact departure and return times from camp. You should even include less critical details such as the weather that day and who you planted with. If there is ever a dispute between you and your company about the wages that are owed to you, this kind of handwritten documentation will be very useful to a labour board mediator.
In the end, the biggest factor that will determine how much money you make will be you. Your motivation, determination and your determination towards learning to plant good quality trees will be the driving forces. As long as you’re with a reputable and honest company (which you can find with a bit of research), you’ll be able to make fair wages that are directly related to your commitment to the job.