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Published March 20, 2013, 09:20 AM

Entrepreneur turns straw into wattles

As Kurt Kordon was driving down the road he noticed the straw wattles — long, thin straw bales seen in the ditches and medians along the interstate — and figured the demand for them would be high with the large amount of road construction in the area.

By: Katherine Grandstrand, Forum News Service

BELFIELD, N.D. — As Kurt Kordon was driving down the road he noticed the straw wattles — long, thin straw bales seen in the ditches and medians along the interstate — and figured the demand for them would be high with the large amount of road construction in the area.

So, Kordon decided to look into the manufacturing of the wattles. Soon, he was in the wattle business and now is co-owner of Northern Plains Erosion Control, LLC.

A wattle is a seemingly simple device that helps combat a major problem — sediment movement and erosion.

“The whole point of the wattle would be to slow that water down and let that sediment settle out,” says Matt Sperry, North Dakota Department of Transportation environmental scientist. “So it’s more of a sediment control than an erosion control.”

Kordon, along with partner Dwayne Shypkoski, began the process of setting up a wattle-making shop in June, Shypkoski says. They ordered a wattle maker from a German company and found a location in rural Belfield, N.D., not far from Shypkoski’s ranch.

“They actually flew us over there to inspect it before they shipped it here,” he says. “We got a little trip to Germany.”

They made their first wattles on Jan. 20.

Northern Plains’ wattles are made of wheat straw, certified to be free of weeds and seeds, which is a hot commodity, Shypkoski says.

“In this part of the country, wheat straw has a value because it’s no-till farming in this area and it has value for being put back in the soil,” he says. “The residue is good for the soil. It preserves moisture and nutrients and so it does have value that way — it’s not free.”

While wattles are most often seen being used for sediment control in road construction, they have other uses, Shypkoski says.

“Anywhere where there’s a construction zone and it’s got a hill” is where wattles can be utilized, he says.

The transportation department started to use wattles are early as 2004, Sperry says. The straw bales have grown in popularity since.

“They’re easy,” he says. “They’re easy to install, easy to get a hold of. You can put in a lot in a short amount of time because they’re not really labor intensive.”

If the wattles are made with 100 percent biodegradable materials — meaning the netting and the stakes used to set them, as well as the straw — they can be left in place, Sperry said. And grass grows just as well — if not better — where the wattles have been.

“There’s been some instances where I’ve seen grass growing in the straw bales before I see it anywhere else,” he says. “Basically you have to think of it as a really thick layer of mulch in that one area.”

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