Fors MW is the manufacturer behind Farma trailers, Bigab hooklift trailers and the new LF8 forwarder. Forestry Journal was invited into the factory in Estonia to learn more about the company’s history and its manufacturing process.

EVERYONE should be able to afford a good timber trailer.

That was the philosophy which launched Fors MW on its journey to become one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of forestry, agricultural and contractor machinery.

Today the company has three highly successful brands in Farma, Bigab and Fama-N (formerly Niab), distributed all over the world, and has just unveiled its first harvester, the eight-tonne LF8.

A few months ago, Forestry Journal was granted the rare opportunity to tour the Fors MW factory, in Saue, 15 km from Tallin, Estonia. Designed for short-series production, the site covers 40,000 m², 18,000 m² of which is under cover.


Our tour guides for the day were Ulrica Fors-Stenmarck, Fors MW CEO since 2019, and international sales rep Tom Belton, the man who effectively established Farma in the UK, helping to turn it into the company’s third-biggest market, just ahead of Canada.

Ulrica is the daughter of Leif Fors, the company’s founder and a true entrepreneur.

Hailing from Sweden, he had many business ventures before trying his hand at forest machinery. These included construction companies, a stone crushing plant in Portugal and more. Curiosity brought him to Estonia in the 1980s, and the levels of deprivation he witnessed affected him deeply.

Forestry Journal: Fors MW CEO Ulrica Fors-Stenmarck was our guide on the tour of the factory.Fors MW CEO Ulrica Fors-Stenmarck was our guide on the tour of the factory. (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“The misery he saw here in the country, not further away than 400 kilometres from the Swedish border, really shook him up,” said Ulrica. “As an entrepreneur, he saw an opportunity to create something for himself, but he also saw a possibility to build something here for others.”

At the time, the country was on the verge of breaking free from the Soviet Union and becoming an independent nation. That inevitably meant there would be a great deal of chaos, but also opportunities for those willing to navigate choppy waters.

“Back in the 1990s, Estonia really was the Wild West,” said Ulrica. “It’s something that is hard for us to imagine today. Even though Estonia was very fast with introducing its own currency and that made a huge difference, it still took time to build up laws, to build a bank system and all of that.”

Forestry Journal: There are a number of bending machines used for shaping trailer parts.There are a number of bending machines used for shaping trailer parts. (Image: FJ/JH)

We heard many stories of the early days of independence while in Estonia, of corruption and intimidation, theft, crazy deal-making and more. One perhaps apocryphal tale told to us was that when Leif bought his original factory building it had been broken down by Soviet soldiers and loaded onto a train bound for the border. He allegedly made an offer to the men guarding the materials and they accepted, though it was unclear if the deconstructed building was theirs to sell.

What is not in doubt is that in 1992, on the first day when companies could be registered in the newly independent Estonia, Leif got in line behind 45 others at the government office in Tallin’s old town. Fors MW became the 46th company created in Estonia after independence and the first from Sweden.

Ulrica said: “When the opportunity here in Estonia arose, Leif was importing second-hand machinery from the UK to the Swedish market. He had never set up any kind of production and never introduced any brands to the market.

Forestry Journal: The Fors MW factory is located in Saue, 15 km from Tallinn.The Fors MW factory is located in Saue, 15 km from Tallinn. (Image: FJ/JH)

“The company started by manufacturing everything from circular saws to candlesticks but, to speak openly, it was not a hit.”

Lief had always liked forests, with a keen interest in land and soil. A two-hour drive from the factory premises, he established a forestry and farming operation comprising around 2,000 ha, still utilised today for extensive product testing. As such, he became aware of a gap in the market for a small, affordable timber trailer.

“If we look back 30 years ago it was a very different market,” said Ulrica. “There were trailer manufacturers, but the trailers they offered were mainly from 10 tonne and upward and they cost a lot of money. Leif thought it shouldn’t matter what size of wallet you had or the size of the forest. He thought everyone should be able to afford a good timber trailer.”

In a short while, the Farma T6 was created and launched. As a six-tonne model, it offered something completely new for the market at a pioneering price point. For the first time ever, small forest owners could afford to buy a timber trailer, and sales soon took off, setting Fors MW on its journey into forestry.

Forestry Journal: This portal milling centre represents a significant investment in milling, ensuring longer life for chassis.This portal milling centre represents a significant investment in milling, ensuring longer life for chassis. (Image: FJ/John McNee)

“The build quality at that time was definitely nothing to brag about,” said Ulrica. “It took 15 years to develop a product of real quality. But the price was really groundbreaking. The market had never seen that before. And with that, Farma sales took off.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the brand. In 1997 the banks collapsed in Estonia – a huge crisis which put many businesses at risk. Leif was in real need of capital to save Fors MV, so accepted support from the Swedish government and three more Swedish entrepreneurs, one of whom was the creator behind Bigab hooklift.

Through this connection, Bigab eventually became a part of the Fors MW stable.

In 2006, disaster struck when a fire broke out at the factory in the middle of the night. Leif arrived on site to find the whole place in flames. The damage from the blaze was so extensive that it went down in history as the biggest-ever industrial fire in Estonia.

Forestry Journal: The production floor will be extended to accommodate an assembly line for the new LF8 forwarder.The production floor will be extended to accommodate an assembly line for the new LF8 forwarder. (Image: FJ/JH)

Getting back to business as usual required huge amount of effort and careful planning. The factory was rebuilt with an eye to improving efficiency and innovation throughout production. The result was rapid recovery and Fors MW soon reclaimed its position in the market.

Sadly, after several years with cancer, Leif Fors passed away in April 2015, but the company he started has never looked in better shape. Having emerged from the chaos of COVID recording exceptional growth in key markets, its key challenges are recruitment of skilled staff and how to increase production output.

Forestry Journal:  The facility has 150 employees on site, including 35 welders. The facility has 150 employees on site, including 35 welders. (Image: FJ/JM)

Today there are more than 18,000 Farma trailers and 25,000 cranes on the market, distributed worldwide. The company remains as committed as ever to developing and manufacturing quality forestry machines at an attractive price. The factory is a hive of technical expertise, where the highest demands are placed on both raw materials and finished components. Like the company’s range of products, its manufacturing facilities have evolved to meet the standards of today and tomorrow, though elements of the past are evident in the continued commitment to hand-crafted parts and the vintage machinery dotted throughout the site.

The Farma range of trailers and cranes is constructed from high-strength steel, with over 1,400,000 kg used annually in the factory’s production processes. Laser cutting is used to produce shapes from sheet metal, which are then put through bending machines like the Durma AD-S hydraulic press brake.

Set up in the vicinity of the cutting zone are a number of processing machines in the form of lathes, pillar drilling equipment and more, from various different manufacturers, not all of it still in use and some of considerable vintage.

“This company was built on second-hand machines,” said Tom Belton. “There was nothing new. Leif bought everything at auction in Sweden. He waited for bankruptcy sales. There were all sorts of old machines in here that didn’t work. He paid € 100,000 for a plasma cutter that was worth € 1.5 million, but it was completely knackered. The computer wasn’t there to control it. Somehow he fixed it up and got it going, like he did with everything. And then, slowly, the company began to invest in more advanced machines.”

Forestry Journal:  A part is prepared for blasting. A part is prepared for blasting. (Image: FJ/JH)

One of its latest and most significant investments is the Uniport 6000, a portal milling centre which ensures exceptional milling quality and a longer life for trailer chassis, as well as making production processes easier down the line.

Tom explained: “The precision you can get when skimming surfaces and boring holes is second to none. When you put a crane onto a trailer you need absolutely flat surfaces. This will skim it within a hundredth of a millimetre. When you put a crane’s main boom onto a column, you have to marry two holes together. Before this that required a big hammer and a bit of luck, whereas now, once it’s skimmed and bored, you can slide the shaft in with your hands.”

The drawbacks are that it’s expensive to purchase and run and requires some serious expertise at the controls.

Also requiring expertise is welding. While it has robots on site, most of the welding undertaken at Fors MW is done by hand. The company numbers 35 welders among its employees.

When parts are ready they are put through a huge shot blaster, large enough to accommodate entire machine frames. This process prepares the surface of the metal for painting. In 2022, Farma updated its colours to a sophisticated olive green, which looks very much at home in the woods.

After painting, parts are dried and cooled and hoses are pressed before final assembly takes place.

Forestry Journal: Complete frames are sent through this huge blaster, smoothing the surface for painting.Complete frames are sent through this huge blaster, smoothing the surface for painting. (Image: FJ/JH)

On our way to the assembly hall, we passed through the expansive parts warehouse which, as one might expect, boasts an extensive catalogue of spares for models across the brands and the years.

The facility currently produces 35,000 parts in house, all made by hand. 5,000 parts are ordered in from over 850 independent suppliers around the world.

“Some of the parts on these shelves have been here a long time,” Tom remarked.

“But you have to have them, because many of the old trailers are still being used. The first Bigab I sold in Scotland in 2003 is still working.”

Each year, the design team carries out more than 150 updates to existing products to improve the user experience and quality. Tom said the focus of recent years has been making the build of the trailers and cranes more modular, so they can be more easily combined and modified in different ways to suit the demands of customers.

Through a new design and a reinforced crane podium, the trailers can now be equipped with longer cranes. 

Forestry Journal: On the day of Forestry Journal’s visit, two Farma T17 trailers were on the verge of being shipped to the UK.On the day of Forestry Journal’s visit, two Farma T17 trailers were on the verge of being shipped to the UK. (Image: FJ/JH)

By way of example, he pointed to the Farma C 5.0 X-CEL, which can lift 560 kg on full reach.

“That is a beautiful crane,” he said. “But when it launched, we didn’t really have a home for it. So we’ve changed the trailers to get it on the smaller ones and sales have skyrocketed. The T6 is the smallest trailer we make, but it’s the same front concept as on the T7 and T8. We can combine different cranes, trailers and so on to suit the customer.”

We exited the factory just as an LF8 forwarder was returning to the yard, having been out in the forest for a demonstration. A dream of Leif Fors which was never realised in his lifetime, it represents a bold new venture for the company and will soon enter into full production at the factory.

It’s an interesting time to be making such a commitment, when sales of forest machinery across the market are in decline and other companies are taking steps to cut back, but Ulrica is undaunted.

She said: “The market goes up and the market goes down. And everyone expected a downturn after COVID. Sales are dropping all over the world and that is a challenge going forward, but we hope it’s a short-term problem.

Forestry Journal: Farma’s man in the UK, Tom Belton.Farma’s man in the UK, Tom Belton. (Image: FJ/JH)

“I still say our first challenge is to increase production output, because I’m looking to the future and preparing for what comes next. 

“The next time the market turns I want Fors MW to be ready and for that we are preparing.

“We are putting our forwarder into production and I understand that journey will take time. We will not sell 50 tomorrow. And I wouldn’t want that to happen. I want it to take a bit of time. But at the same time, we need production capacity. When the sales come, we need to be able to produce. 

“A year from now I want Fors MW to be able to deliver more than we have ever delivered before.”