Pennsylvania farmer Jim Saunders pitched his idea for a vinyl wrap to protect tree trunks from deer to U.S. processors in five states but no one would go out on a limb to manufacture the first small run of his patented product.
Called Tree Armor, the spiral-shaped, spring-loaded plastic hugs tree trunks from the ground up to 4-feet high, deterring deer that eat bark and bucks that are hungry for, ahem, doing that wild thing.
Every September, testosterone-fueled, white-tailed bucks start rubbing their antlers on trees to clean off the summer layer of velvet and mark their territory. They're leaving a calling card for does and warning away the breeding competition. They also cause deadly damage to young trees in the process.
This mating period, which can go through winter, is known as the deer rut. It takes a costly toll on yards, orchards and professionally landscaped grounds as Saunders, a crop farmer growing corn, soy beans and wheat near the Poconos Mountains, can attest. A few years ago he planted 60 ornamental trees to make his acreage look nice and ended up attracting a lot of bucks.
“We have a lot of sycamores, crepe myrtle and maples,” Saunders said. “In the winter the deer come through in herds and they just rip up our trees. We tried everything from ace bandages to wire mesh and they just demolished everything. After they rip the bark, within six months the tree is dead.”
Saunders and his daughter, Jill, began experimenting at home with ways to solve the problem with vinyl. They used a tapered candle because, like a tree trunk, it has a wide base that narrows toward the top. They had a break through using a candle that had been in the freezer.
“We took a strip of plastic and we heated it up and we wrapped it around the frozen candle,” Saunders said. “It was cold on one side and warm on the other. We found we created a spring-like quality to the plastic. That's how this started.”
That spring-loaded quality gives Tree Armor a tight wrap against deer antlers yet expands as the trunk grows. The Saunders added perforations to limit mold and mildew and wound up with a product that's quick and easy to install and provides years of protection. They figured a competitive sales point would be $6 retail.
The father-daughter team hit the road in search of an extruder. County by county, they struck out in their home state then Maryland, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Some businesses wouldn't meet with them let alone give them a quote. The others offered little more than cost estimates of $8 to $12 each, which Saunders said the market wouldn't bear.
“We got the same story from everybody,” he said. “They were willing to make us prototypes but they weren't interested in a 30,000-piece order. They thought it was too labor intensive. They said you better take this to China because labor isn't an issue there and they'll make it at the price you need to sell it for. The American industry convinced us to go overseas. It was really something. It was disheartening.”
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