Brick by brick, farmers on way to building an eco-friendly business with target turnover of €900,000
Andrew Byrne is a tillage farmer who runs a company making planet-friendly briquettes which has become a roaring success. Only in its second year, Mr Byrne's biggest fear is that Wexgen may struggle to find enough renewable fuel produce to cope with the demand during the winter months.
The 39-year-old Wexford man joined with 30 other farmers to produce their new product made from miscanthus, a crop also known as elephant grass.
They had planted it to sell to the power stations, but when that didn't work out they spotted a business opportunity. They each put €5,000 into the business and got a grant from Wexford's local development and enterprise board, then managed to get a bank loan after a lot of grief.
"The first bank we went to to borrow €200,000 said 'yes, but you have to put €200,000 on deposit first'," Mr Byrne said. "We told them if we had that kind of money we wouldn't be there and we got the same everywhere until AIB gave it to us. I think they decided there were so many people involved it was a good bet."
During their busiest periods Wexgen employs up to 20 people and has four full-time employees. Mr Byrne, who is managing director, says the firm is chipping away to win a greater share of the briquette market and is competing against Bord na Mona and big importers from Malaysia and South America, who are also producing renewable energy products. "If we could get 1pc of 2pc of that market we would be happy," he said.
This winter their briquettes will be sold through Woodies DIY, Musgraves and the distributors who supply all local hardware shops. The business should treble its turnover to close to around €900,000 this year, according to Mr Byrne. "Our biggest fear is that we won't have enough briquettes but we will cross that bridge when we come to it".