A company in Northern Ireland that extrudes agricultural netting plans to open one of the largest plants for that product in North America.
UPU Industries Ltd. of Dromore, Northern Ireland, will open a new, 100,000-square-foot plant to make knitted agricultural netting in rural north-central Kansas. The plant, in Junction City, Kan., is to open by the middle of 2004, said Tony Foran, UPU sales and marketing director.
``It is used for big, round bales where the netting is wrapped around the bale,'' said Foran of the unique product, made of high density polyethylene. ``It has performed exceptionally well in Europe, and we've started to see an increase in demand in North America. It is a market that will continue to grow over the years, and we needed a larger presence.''
The bale netting wraps such products as hay, straw and silage and protects it from inclement weather.
Traditionally, farmers in North America have used polypropylene baler twine because of the lack of the durable, quickly wrapped netting, Foran said.
Patents on bale netting equipment expired in February, opening the market to more competition and greater capacity, Foran said. Now, companies such as UPU can add attachments to make the netting on existing equipment used to extrude baling, he said.
``There is higher productivity in baling netting, but only a certain amount of capacity was available in the market,'' Foran said in a Sept. 12 telephone interview from Northern Ireland. ``We're going to be very well-positioned in North America.''
The company will spend an estimated $14 million to build the plant and buy new extrusion equipment, Foran said. The plant will start with about 70 workers, with that number expected to grow quickly, he added.
UPU has exported more than 10 percent of its bale netting to the United States and Canada from its Dromore plant, which opened in 1996. Its Farmers-brand net wrap is exported to 23 countries.
UPU already is the largest producer of agricultural net wrap in the United Kingdom, Foran said. It is owned by Dromore-based Steve Orr Ltd., a maker of baler twine, silage stretch film and rope for crop packaging.
The company plans to create a U.S. subsidiary to run the new facility, which will be about the same size as its Dromore plant, said Stefan Bras, international trade representative for the Kansas Department of Commerce in Topeka. The state plans to offer recruitment and training incentives, while the community will offer infrastructure improvements.
UPU will build the site in a city that has a population of less than 18,000 people and in a county of fewer than 30,000 residents, Bras said.
``It is small, but it has the labor force and the right environment for this project,'' Bras said. ``The netting is your classic bale netting that you see in many fields near [Junction City].''
The Northern Ireland company had considered several states for its knitted-netting plant, Foran said. The plant uses specialized technology to extrude the netting on a baling machine and then knit the strands into a completed wrap.
The company faces several smaller U.S. competitors and other importers, Foran said. The facility in Kansas should be the largest of its kind on this continent, he said.
``All technology in the plant will be purpose-built,'' Foran said. ``It's not as if we're just moving machines from Northern Ireland to America. It's something we've been working on for quite some time.''