Meadowood Industries, Inc. is dedicated to development, production and marketing of high value structural and decorative products from ryegrass and other agricultural crops to increase agricultural sustainability with benefits of environmental sensibility. The goals are to produce viable products for changing markets and provide a return to grass seed growers. The products and process advancements now available demonstrate achievements toward these goals. Since the company's founding in 1977, Meadowood has continued to devise better methods of meeting future challenges.
Utilization of crop byproduct resources, straw, or agricultural fibers offers the opportunity for alternate use, provided certain economic and perceptive challenges are overcome:
Meadowood Provides Solutions
The expanding management team of Meadowood Industries, Inc. is fortunate to include a cross section of members with lifetimes of experience in the agricultural and wood products industries. This expertise melds agricultural and composite board technology to address industry challenges and evolve the company.
Part of the team's farming and agricultural engineering expertise began during the 1950's in the grass seed, hay and straw businesses. Ownership in production agriculture gives one a keen appreciation for the economic need to compensate the grower for a quality harvest byproduct. A reliable long-term supply of quality raw material for successful board production means that a return to the grower is a necessary cost. The education for control of costs in selection, collection, densification, transportation and storage of the raw material evolved with hay and livestock operations. The use and improvement of early "self tie" hay balers, and of loading hay trucks by hand, before transitioning to self propelled balers and automatic bale wagons is a foundation of knowledge for densification and transport. Successful livestock operations require careful selection, harvest, and storage of feed and bedding. The use of forage chopping and livestock feed mill equipment is the basis of design for straw chopping and particle sizing machinery. The very nature of production agriculture technology requires the ingenuity and hands on ability to repair, improve, adapt, innovate and design machinery for new uses.
Other Meadowood team members have gained expertise in production, engineering, and management in the wood products industry. Career work has ranged from hand loading early plywood presses to the design, construction, and operation of large automated lumber and composite board facilities. Innovation is the constant factor as the industry has moved from the development of plywood through the new "engineered lumber" of today. The process modifications necessary for use of agricultural fibers are similar to regular advancements that have been made in wood product technology. The higher costs for binders used with agricultural fibers are offset by improved distribution during blending, the use of extenders and modifiers, and by the greater value of a better product for niche markets.
The type of products Meadowood Industries, Inc. produces have characteristics that are unique in the board industry. The board and molded products have strength, elasticity, insulative, and acoustic properties that are generally greater than similar wood products. The company has made significant accomplishments in the area of process and product improvement. The grass board no longer sticks to the caul or forming plates, the board consistency and quality has increased, the surface appearance has been enhanced, and the machining qualities have been refined. New appearance values have been added by the use of long straw, or tall grass, and with the use of dies, paints and stains. Versatility has been increased with more thicknesses and densities, the use of backing materials, development of the steam forming and molding processes, and prototype production of numerous geometric shapes. These developments have increased the acceptance of this unique material.
The resource materials that remain in the fields after grass seed harvest are referred to by various names of residual, residue, trash, byproduct, and straw. The term straw generally refers to the stalks or stems of cereal grains after harvest. The term also has been given a general meaning of low worth by the English language and folklore. Strawboard, by definition refers to common paperboard made of straw pulp used for packing, cardboard boxes, bookbinding, etc. The ryegrass stems used in Meadowood products are tougher and less brittle than stalks of cereal grains. By taking advantage of the stem strength inherent in grass, the Meadowood efforts have resulted in products more related to Oriented Strand Board (OSB), rather than Particleboard or Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF). The appearance value, strength to weight, and environmental sensibility move Meadowood designer materials into higher value markets. Meadowood Industries, Inc. has found that the terms MeadowBoard™ and GrassBoard™ better identify the products.
The resource of quality raw material for board production is limited by weather conditions during harvest, competitive uses such as export, and by the annual acreage used for seed production in the Willamette Valley. Maximum annual use of all of the quality resource available will supply only one or two industry sized board plants. This places the products in the niche market category because the impact of large scale production on the composite board market will be less than 1%. Niche markets have a higher cost of entry than commodities, but have benefits of higher value use and lower competition.
Meadowood Industries Inc. conducted initial marketing efforts at more than 100 trade shows, expositions, and fairs around the nation to provided a direct approach to test the markets for new product users. Home interior and gift items had the widest initial appeal and received the most attention. Gift representatives sold clocks and plaques through the western states. Board was sold to home centers and lumberyards on a direct basis. A line of Visual Merchandising fixtures were developed and sold direct and through representatives in New York and San Francisco. The display fixtures and props were also sold through floral trade magazines and representatives. Decorator panels and murals were sold to the Architectural and Interior Design Professionals. The markets for molded products are currently being explored. Examples of some the market areas identified are described in the Markets Section.
The move by the Interior Design industry away from earth-tone decorator colors, and the general economic slowdown in building trades, brought research and production to a part time operation in the early 1980's. The agricultural and building slowdowns of that period resulted in unfortunate timing for the move from "boot strap" capitalization to full production funding. Sufficient product has been sold to demonstrate the viability of the Meadowood concept. The company has been featured in numerous local, national and several international publications. Sale of product, distribution of samples, promotion and media attention has all helped create both national and international interest.
Meadowood has responded to inquiries from, and given tours to, delegations from Asia, Australia, India, England, Europe and North America. The information exchange has been an education that is very useful in preparing future strategic plans. The formation of capital to grow the entrepreneurial business has been a challenge. Several business and political relationship experiences have helped to foster caution. The age-old concept of "spinning straw to gold" can sometimes be an invitation to the overly optimistic, or not so well intentioned. The political and economic realities of solving environmental concerns have resulted in periodic fluctuations of public support for viable alternate solutions. Market conditions in 2004 appear much more favorable because of the increased need for sources of innovative building materials, and the desire for environmentally sensitive but cost effective alternatives to wood products. International interest has increased. Mr. Gorzell traveled to China in May 2000 and August 2003 as the guest of a potential Joint Venture partners.
The present facility has both multi-opening and high-pressure single opening equipment. Research and production work for the company and clients has resulted in products and laminates with a wide range of materials and densities. Laminates and veneers range from clear vinyl through foam core, or Structural Insulated Panel (SIP). Materials include agricultural fibers such as buckwheat hulls, rice stalks and hulls, various types of cereal grain stalks, corn stover, kenaf, bagasse, other forage and grasses, and urban wastes including chopped money.
Product research and market testing efforts have demonstrated that the Meadowood ryegrass products are feasible and marketable. These research and proto-production efforts have helped to gain the product and market knowledge necessary to attract funding for a full-scale facility. Production methods and equipment options have improved. Market conditions and technology advances are much more favorable today for practical full-scale board production. The time has come to let everyone know about and use these unique and wonderful Meadowood products.
Challenges and Future Plans
Meeting the environmental and economic challenges of expansion are discussed in a technical paper presented to the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in July of 2001.
The sum of experience gained by Meadowood has strengthened the base and increased the knowledge of the management team, associates, and advisors. We are encouraged about future prospects to develop a leading position in the Agricultural Composite Board industry. Meadowood Industries, Inc. will continue proto-production, marketing and development work while preparing for a new full production facility.
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