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    Second Harvest | Fall 2015 Out Here Magazine

    Jack Norman of Howe, Texas, and his grandson, Tyler, are among the farmers who sell straw to IGS, which is the only U.S. enterprise using an all-green process to manufacture straw boards, company officials say.

    Manufacturer turns straw into green building material

    By Julie Thibodeaux

     

     

    A Texas company is using an 80-year-old process to transform an agricultural byproduct into cutting-edge green construction material while also providing a second cash crop for local farmers.

    IGS Manufacturing Worldwide has been rolling out boards made from 100 percent straw at its manufacturing plant in Fort Worth since 2012.

    IGS purchased equipment to make the boards from a manufacturer in Europe, where the environmentally friendly technology was developed in the 1930s. The 300-foot-long machine, nearly the length of a football field, breaks bales apart, sorts them, and pushes the straw into molds, where it is compressed under extreme heat into 4-foot-wide pieces. The rigid boards exit the machine wrapped in organic paper, cut to custom lengths.

    “There are no binding agents in it, no carcinogens — just straw,” says Tim Evans, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “It really makes it the greenest material under the sun.”

    Straw suppliers include about a dozen local farmers, including Jack Norman of Howe, Texas, who will sell straw to IGS after his wheat is harvested this season.

    The straw sales provide an additional source of income to offset low wheat prices, says Norman, a second-generation farmer who works 5,200 acres with his grandson Tyler.

    Norman had sold his straw to another company that operated a straw board plant in nearby Whitewright, until the business shut down during 2008’s economic downturn. In the past, he was paid $7-$10 per bale and typically provided as many as 200 bales a year.

    “It’s not a ‘big’ deal but it’s certainly worth looking into,” he says. “If we’re getting only $4 per bushel for wheat, instead of $7, it’s a way to get some extra profit.”

    Compressed agricultural fiber boards made completely from straw can replace traditional building materials.

    The Wheat Belt

    IGS requires about 25,000 acres of wheat straw to operate to capacity annually. Each acre of wheat produces 1½ to three bales of straw. The company expects to buy from as many 15 farmers, all located within about 90 miles northeast of Dallas-Fort Worth.

    The area is known as a wheat belt, where soft red winter wheat is grown, the type of wheat ideal for straw board, due to its long and sturdy stem.

    When Norman and the other farmers harvest their wheat, they’ll leave as much as 18 inches of stalk in the ground. Then IGS will contract workers to cut the straw stubble, bale it into 4-foot-by-8-foot bales, and store it.

    IGS is not only creating an eco-friendly product, Evans says, they’re using a resource that typically goes unused and is not suited for food or fuel.

    “You can’t feed it to cattle or horses,” he says. “Texas alone throws away about 17 million tons of it a year.”

    Photos courtesy of IGS Manufacturing

    Offering Shelter

    Compressed agricultural fiber boards or CAFboards can earn green building credits from the U.S. Green Building Council for those seeking LEED certification. The boards can replace traditional materials such as fiberglass insulation, gypsum board, medium density fiberboard, particle board and sound-proofing panels.

    They can also be used to build simple structures, such as backyard storage units and modular housing.

    The CAFboards are touted as non-toxic, mold and pest resistant, energy efficient, highly sound absorbent and nearly fireproof due to their high density.

    Still, the United States has been slow to adopt CAFboards, so IGS is marketing its product primarily to countries with housing shortages, such as Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Guatemala, as well as for disaster relief operations.

    IGS has designed housing kits, which include all of the material needed to assemble a two-bedroom, 250-square-foot home. The house kits include CAF components cut to size, a steel gauge framing system to connect the boards, and a metal roof. They can be assembled by unskilled laborers in a few days with handheld tools, Evans says.

    IGS also envisions setting up CAFboard manufacturing plants in other countries, where other building material is scarce but agricultural byproducts are plentiful.

    The company plans to source its material from local residents, boosting the local economy, while providing affordable, sustainable housing with their products.

    “It’s an alternative solution,” Evans says, “to global homelessness.”

     

    Julie Thibodeaux is a Texas writer who specializes in environmental topics.

    Fall 2015 Out Here Magazine Home Page

    Environmental sustainability is important to Tractor Supply, and we applaud others who feel the same way. That’s why we’re regularly featuring some of our customers and friends who are good stewards of the land. For more information on our Stewardship Program, visit TractorSupply.com, scroll down, and click on “Environmental Sustainability.”