So­lar Shrink mulch film

Broth­ers Mark and Robert Tren­chard have over­come ex­treme ad­ver­sity to pro­duce the award-win­ning So­lar Shrink mulch film, writes Har­ri­son Hunkin

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Contents -

Aus­tralians love an un­der­dog story – be­cause there’s some­thing truly ad­mirable about over­com­ing ad­ver­sity. So when the 2011 Bris­bane floods hit and left Hy­drox Tech­nolo­gies’ fac­tory sub­merged in water, you could’ve for­given co-founders and broth­ers Mark and Rob Tren­chard for pulling the pin.

In­stead, the lads have gone onto cre­ate So­lar Shrink, a truly in­no­va­tive mulch film, which is chang­ing the agri­cul­tural land­scape in Aus­tralia.

IT STARTED WITH AN IDEA

In the wake of the 2011 floods, Mark and Rob joined forces once again to start Hy­drox Tech­nolo­gies, with the in­ten­tion of cre­at­ing a biodegrad­able mulch film that led to So­lar Shrink by ac­ci­dent. “The rea­son we wanted a biodegrad­able prod­uct was we wanted some­thing that was en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly,” Mark says.

“But the prob­lem with biodegrad­ables is that they are very ex­pen­sive be­cause of the poly­mers [used], so in or­der to com­pete with stan­dard poly­eth­yl­ene prod­ucts we needed to find a way to make a thin­ner film to get more yield and cut costs.

“So Rob, with my fa­ther Doug, de­vel­oped a biodegrad­able prod­uct that was thin­ner and at the same time had a bit more strength. But the prob­lem with it is that it just didn’t work.

“Biodegrad­able prod­ucts are good for cer­tain ap­pli­ca­tions but for agri­cul­ture they can’t work. There are too many vari­ables. One sea­son you get more rain, the other you get less, one field might have more bac­te­ria and bugs in the soil com­pared to the other, and you can­not con­trol these vari­ables.”

How­ever, between de­vel­op­ing the ma­chin­ery to make a biodegrad­able plas­tic mulch film that was thin­ner and stronger, and the Tren­chard broth­ers re­al­is­ing that their biodegrad­able prod­uct didn’t re­ally work in an agri­cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment, they de­cided to put some nor­mal plas­tic through their ma­chin­ery.

The re­sult was a ma­te­rial that was up to 300 per cent stronger than a stan­dard mulch film, while at the same time us­ing roughly 20 to 35 per cent less plas­tic and pro­vid­ing an un­planned ben­e­fit.

“The So­lar Shrink was ob­vi­ously bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment as we are us­ing less plas­tic but also the film is much stronger,” Mark says.

“We also had a side ben­e­fit by com­plete ac­ci­dent; we hadn’t re­ally de­vel­oped it to be a shrink­ing mulch film but we found out that when we put the So­lar Shrink out in the sun it shrinks and be­comes very tight onto the grow­ing bed.”

This is where So­lar Shrink is so unique. Un­like most plas­tics that haven’t been man­u­fac­tured with Hy­drox’s tech­nol­ogy, when other plas­tics heat up they ex­pand and blow and flap in the wind. This flap­ping pushes out hot air, which re­sults in mois­ture loss as well as plant dam­age as the flap­ping plas­tic rubs against the young plants.

“Es­sen­tially we stretch the film in cer­tain di­rec­tions and ori­en­tate the mol­e­cules to make it stronger,” he says.

“Our film, as soon as you place it down on the ground, will shrink very, very tightly onto the soil bed.”

At this point Mark demon­strates how quickly the So­lar Shrink mulch film shrinks and tight­ens un­der heat. By plac­ing what seems like a stan­dard garbage bag un­der a lamp light (used to sim­u­late the sun), the plas­tic im­me­di­ately shrinks and tight­ens, sim­i­lar to that of a drum skin.

Ac­cord­ing to Mark, the film takes less than half a minute to shrink.

“There isn’t an­other prod­uct that shrinks like that,” he says. “It shrinks at very low tem­per­a­tures, around about 35-36 de­grees Cel­sius. And be­cause it’s black in colour, even if you lay it down on a re­ally cold day, the black colour ab­sorbs the heat and there­fore al­lows the plas­tic to shrink.”

(W)RAPPED CUS­TOMERS

Like a fourth-born child, So­lar Shrink was con­ceived by ac­ci­dent. What started as a thin­ner, stronger plas­tic that was bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment ended up with shrink­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties that changed the way farm­ers think about mulch film.

“It’s the way we process the ma­te­rial,” Mark says. “There is a lot of se­cret tech­nol­ogy used; in terms of the ma­te­rial we use, we just use dif­fer­ent grades of poly­eth­yl­ene that are not con­ven­tional.”

The Tren­chard broth­ers have re­ceived strange looks by com­pa­nies when ex­plain­ing their prod­uct, high­lighted by a re­cent trip to China.

“We were in China talk­ing to a big Ger­man com­pany that man­u­fac­tures ma­chin­ery for mak­ing plas­tics and, when we told them our tech­nol­ogy, they sort of didn’t be­lieve us,” Mark says.

“They didn’t be­lieve that was the way plas­tic was made; it was too un­sta­ble, you can­not do it this way. But we once we went through the story of farm­ers not want­ing flap­ping plas­tic be­cause it loses heat and mois­ture etc, you could ac­tu­ally see the penny drop for them. Next minute they said, ‘Wow that’s a great idea, how can we help?’

“That sort of val­i­da­tion from them felt quite good.”

The first roll of So­lar Shrink was pro­vided to a Bund­aberg farmer in Fe­bru­ary 2015; the re­cep­tion back was swift.

“A week later he called my brother and said, “Hey Rob, you know that roll you sent up? Can you send up a pal­let?” Mark says. “We thought, ‘Wow, we haven’t even got this process down pat but this bloke wants a pal­let,’ so we shipped a pal­let up there and about a week later he called again and told us we bet­ter come up and have a look at the stuff.”

Rob did drive up to Bund­aberg to see the farmer who was in­cred­i­bly im­pressed by So­lar Shrink’s strength and its abil­ity to tighten over the grow­ing bed.

“That was the first time Rob thought we were onto some­thing, be­cause at that stage we didn’t know the plas­tic was go­ing to tighten at the time, we just wanted a film that was go­ing to be thin­ner and stronger,” he re­calls.

“This farmer, three weeks af­ter we sent him that pal­let, called us up again and said, ‘You guys bet­ter send up a semi-trailer load of So­lar Shrink be­cause I’ve can­celled my or­der with your com­peti­tors and we haven’t stopped pro­duc­tion since then; we’ve been flat out.’”

Within 18 months of launch­ing So­lar Shrink, the Tren­chard broth­ers were at full ca­pac­ity, sup­ply­ing more than 50 per cent of the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

The prod­uct re­tails for $325 per 3km roll.

“We are sup­ply­ing more than 50 per cent of all farm­ers,” Mark says. “We also sup­ply eight out of the top-10 grow­ers in Aus­tralia as well.”

LOOK­ING GLOBAL

In Fe­bru­ary, the Tren­chard broth­ers took their So­lar Shrink mulch wrap global, at­tend­ing the World Ag Expo in Cal­i­for­nia.

“We took out the small­est booth avail­able at 10-foot-by-10-foot,” Mark says. “But, a part of be­ing an ex­hibitor, they asked us if we wanted to nom­i­nate our prod­uct in the World Ag Expo’s Top 10 New Prod­ucts com­pe­ti­tion.

“So we put our name for­ward and ex­plained our tech­nol­ogy be­hind it, not re­ally think­ing much of it be­cause we were up against agri­cul­ture gi­ants, but nev­er­the­less about three months later we got an email telling us we’d been se­lected for the [World’s] Top 10 [ New Agri­cul­tural Prod­ucts for 2018].”

Mark ad­mits the recog­ni­tion is one of the best things that has hap­pened for the com­pany.

“Com­ing from an­other coun­try, we thank­fully re­ceived a lot of me­dia cov­er­age,” he says. “While we were there we had four tele­vi­sion in­ter­views from com­pa­nies like NBC, CBS, two from the ABC, as well as two ra­dio in­ter­views, all of which has pro­duced so many leads for us over in the USA.

“For us it has been a huge life-changer, there is now the op­por­tu­nity for us to go global with this prod­uct, which is re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

Look­ing ahead, the Tren­chard broth­ers are cur­rently re­search­ing ways to bet­ter the So­lar Shrink mulch film.

“We are look­ing at us­ing new poly­mer blends and new ma­chin­ery to cre­ate an even thin­ner and stronger prod­uct,” Mark says.

Stay tuned.

1

1. Due to its unique prop­er­ties, So­lar Shrink doesn’t heat up and ex­pand in the sun, which re­sults in mois­ture loss as well as plant dam­age as the flap­ping plas­tic rubs against the young plants 2. So­lar Shrink is now op­er­at­ing at full ca­pac­ity,...

2

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.