Aust shade tech leaders

Australian company has it made in the shade


South east Queensland company NetPro talks to Ken Wilcock about its success providing innovative shade solutions for the burgeoning feedlot industry.


WHEN the world’s largest cattle feeding business takes an interest in your work and then after due consideration engages your services to add value to their business, you know that the path you chose and the decisions you took to develop your own business were the right ones.

The world’s largest cattle feeder is JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding LLC.

A wholly owned subsidiary of JBS (the largest animal protein processing company in the world), Five Rivers operates 12 feedlots in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Idaho and Alberta Canada. They market more than 1.5 million head of cattle a year.

NetPro is a small Australian company that specialises in the design and construction of protective canopy systems. Its headquarters are at Stanthorpe, south east Queensland, where it started putting shade over Granny Smith apples 24 years ago.

Founding director Claude Grayling recalled that prior to installation of canopy the rejection rate of the fruit was as high as 45pc.

“Once we covered them it went down to 3pc,” he said. “That installation virtually paid itself off in a year”.

MADE IN THE SHADE: Feedlot shade recently constructed by NetPro in the US. NetPro is a small Australian company that specialises in the design and construction of protective canopy systems.

MADE IN THE SHADE: Feedlot shade recently constructed by NetPro in the US. NetPro is a small Australian company that specialises in the design and construction of protective canopy systems.

The company has remained heavily involved in the fruit industry ever since but saw an opportunity about 12 years ago to help provide the feedlot industry with an effective solution to its growing need for shade.

Maydan feedlot was the first project and it was there that NetPro discovered a major problem with conventional shade cloth.

Dust was lodging in the fabric to the extent that it virtually waterproofed the cloth and prevented rain from falling through. The weight of water ponding in the centre of the canopy resulted in excessive loading and damage to support structures. Then when water did spill out, it was in one spot which caused further damage to the pen floor.

The challenge was to develop a cloth that provided the shade but allowed the dust to fall through. It took around 12 months to get it right but what they came up with was a cloth with characteristics that far exceeded everything else in the marketplace.

It is all that NetPro now uses in feedlot applications.

The North American connection began around four years ago with a visit by some of the Five Rivers staff to Grassdale feedlot.

The Americans took an interest in the work NetPro had done there and they started to talk.

This led to NetPro going over to the US last year to start a project for Five Rivers at their huge McElhaney feedlot in Arizona. The first section of that project has now been completed and work on the second section has started.

NetPro Projects Development Manager Mick Thompson said, “We designed the shade to suit Arizona so it is a little bit different to what we normally do.”

“In Australia we work on about 3.5 square metres per head. On the first project over there we more than doubled that and on the next section we are tripling it.”

“This is due to the amount of heat there and the amount of shade they consequently need and they don’t have a pen drying problem. When we designed it we wanted the whole pen to have shade during the day,” he said.

This was achieved using two strips of cloth oriented north/south. 

The subsequent movement of the shade keeps the cattle moving across the pen and in this way the pen floor is maintained.

Mr Thompson said there was also an associated benefit in this instance with this design.

Because it is such a low rainfall area there is a problem with dust. They also feed Holstein cattle which means frequent urination so as the cattle move across the pen, this helps to negate the dust.

Contrast this with an application in say Victoria where there is a need to be particularly mindful of sun movement in winter for pen drying reasons and it is evident that a fair bit of science and thought goes into design.

Mr Thompson said NetPro uses computer aided design (CAD) technology to arrive at the most appropriate design for any given location.

“We can input GPS location of the feedlot, draw the actual feedlot in 3D, draw the shade in 3D and then we can calculate for example where the shade will be at 1.00pm on December 2.”

“We also have another program which provides a full movie of where the shade goes,” he said.

Mr Grayling added, “It is all about designing a structure around what the customer wants.”

“We have got to make sure the design works so that down the track there will be no recriminations about design faults such as posts or anchors in the way or it’s not doing its job.”

“We look at things such as the potential for feed trucks to get higher or wider so we can accommodate such possibilities in the design.”

“This is hugely important because once the posts and anchors and tie backs are in place they will be there for 30 years and the customer will be driving around them every day.”

This customer-first approach and the unmatched quality of the product that NetPro uses has not gone unnoticed.

“From the job we did in Arizona we were then approached by another customer and he wants to become NetPro Nebraska,” Mr Grayling said.

With 5500 feedlots in Nebraska that represents significant growth potential with some very different technical challenges.

“Theirs will be patch or grid shade design because of the snow loads in winter. With high temperature and humidity in summer they also have a real issue with heat stress.”

While the greater North American feedlot scene would seem to offer almost limitless potential, Net Pro has every intention of building on its earliest work with the fruit industry both in Australia and abroad.


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