FARGO - Mack Traynor hopes agricultural byproducts, such as wheat straw, will someday be considered a cash crop.
Traynor, who was born and raised in Fargo, is CEO of Ultra Green Packaging, a Plymouth, Minn.-based company that buys those byproducts from farmers and turns them into eco-friendly pizza boxes, take-out containers and other paper-like products.
The company converted the former Noodles by Leonardo pasta plant in 2012 into a manufacturing plant in Devils Lake, N.D., and began limited production there in early 2013. The plant has 15 employees and expects to employ close to 100 by the end of this year, Traynor said.
Ultra Green was established in 2007 and has been using Chinese contract manufacturers but is transitioning to manufacturing plants in the United States, Traynor said during the Global Business Connections conference hosted by the North Dakota Trade Office last week in Fargo.
"We can beat the Chinese in a manufacturing setting using some automation and good old-fashioned American ingenuity," he said.
Traynor said grocery stores across America are carrying Ultra Green's products. Key customers include Whole Foods Market, Hyatt and Winn Dixie.
The company's tree-free paper products are safe for microwaves, freezers and temperatures up to 375 degrees. They will biodegrade in a commercial composter in 60 to 90 days.
Ultra Green decided to locate its manufacturing plant in Devils Lake following a nationwide search.
"It's proven to be a great place for us to locate our facility," he said.
North Dakota committed $500,000 to project, he said.
"One of the really nice things about doing business in North Dakota is the welcoming atmosphere," he said.
John Mittleider, manager of ag and bio-energy development with the North Dakota Department of Commerce said having a company like Ultra Green in North Dakota expands the opportunity for farmers to find another income stream and make their bottom line a little bit healthier.
"That's what our responsibility is, to bring new companies to the state that are making something, manufacturing something," he said. "Our focus is trying to expand the economy of North Dakota and diversify the economy."
Ultra Green buys wheat straw from neighboring farmers around Devils Lake. Traynor said they have enough straw to last until the 2015 harvest, but the company has the potential to require a lot more.
"Someday I'd love that farmers thought of it as an extra cash crop," he said. "There's no reason there can't be 12 of this kind of plant in North Dakota. The market is big enough and the access to straw is good. Straw could be another cash crop."
Several states and counties in the U.S. are banning the use of Styrofoam for takeout containers, and Ultra Green's only competitors in the U.S. are using recycled paper products.
"In our case, you don't have to pay a premium to go green," he said. "We've got products that are better, they don't cost any more and oh, by the way, they're green."
Ultra Green isn't the only regional company making the most out of agricultural waste. Fargo-based business c2renew combines byproducts like sugar beet pulp and sunflower, soybean and oat hull with plastics to create biocomposites that can save businesses money and reduce dependency on petroleum.
Fargo-based Intelligent Agricultural Solutions uses c2renew's biocomposite material in its Wireless Blockage and Flow Monitor, which detects blockages or reduced flow of seed or fertilizer in air seeders.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526