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Warren & Baerg got its start in 1966, according to Randy Baerg, the company’s president. Baerg’s father, Bob, started the company and Randy came onboard full time in 1979, “although I was here welding, while attending high school,” he said.

Bob Baerg had a partner when he started, thus the company name, but the partner retired and the Baergs bought him out. Since the company had a good reputation, they decided not to change the name. In the beginning, they bought and operated cubers made by John Deere.

At that time, the John Deere company owned the patent for making the cubing machines. Baerg explained that cubes are like pellets, but larger. At that time, cubing machines were targeted towards the animal feed industry, for animals like horses and cattle. While cubed feed is convenient, Baerg explained that the material has to be very dry. Most feed needs to be below 14 percent moisture content and alfalfa needs to be below 12 percent. Every percentage point above the minimums means there’s a greater chance that mold will develop or that the material would begin to heat up on its own and could even start a fire.

During the off season, Warren & Baerg did repairs on cubers “which led to making replacement parts,” Baerg said. The John Deere company took notice of this – in a good way.

When the John Deere company realized that cubers weren’t going to sell at a volume they desired, they approached Warren & Baerg with a deal – John Deere would quit making cubers and allow Warren & Baerg to have the patent, as long as Warren & Baerg would supply replacement parts to John Deere. The deal was struck and Warren & Baerg went from using and repairing machines to building them.

Warren & Baerg continued to make machines for the animal feed industry, but in the early 1980s, when fuel prices were increasing, they realized the cubers could be used for making fuel by densifying materials like wood, plastic film, and other waste materials that could be burned as an alternative fuel product.

When fuel prices dropped again, “the interest in the U.S. disappeared,” but sales were still good overseas, partially because of the high cost of sending materials to landfills in Europe and Asia. Because it cost so much to landfill the materials, “that made the alternative fuel option attractive,” Baerg said.

Slowly, the use of alternative fuels has increased in the U.S., and the cubers are again being sold for that purpose. Along with cubers, the company also manufactures dust-free grinding equipment for de-baling materials that will be cubed, as well as conveyors that are part of the cubing systems.

Baerg said that compared to when they started selling machines for alternative fuel use, the materials being cubed are much cleaner than before. The company often does a test run of a new machine, using the customer’s own materials to make sure it meets the customer’s needs. Years ago, the material would have a lot of metal that would need to be removed. “We’ve gone from pretty primitive to unbelievably accurate as far as material sorting. Metal is not a big issue in the test run,” Baerg said.

While clean materials make it easier for the cubers to work, Baerg said that the company is always “looking at what we do and making what we do better.”

Part of that betterment is the company’s goal of making equipment that is less seasonal and less reliant on things like fuel or landfill prices. While conveyors have been part of the company’s lineup for some time, they had focused on conveyors that fit with the machines they made. Now, they’re making conveyors for customers who are not using cubers at all. They’ve also branched out into making bins and hoppers.

Because they’ve broadened the customer base, their employment levels have remained steady, but in the recent past, they’ve had from 24 to 48 employees, depending on customer orders and market conditions.

While the company has been doing more business with alternative fuel producers, they are still manufacturing machines for the agricultural industry. Baerg estimated that about half of their machines are sold for agricultural uses and the other half is for the waste and biomass industries.

When it comes to biomass, Baerg said that the biggest challenge in selling to that market is that it tends to be cheaper in the U.S. to landfill the material than to process it for use as an alternative fuel. It also takes more work, and it takes a machine to do the required processing.

However, Baerg anticipates that there will be more growth in the fuel sector as companies embrace gasification or pyrolysis of the materials and people in the biomass industry begin making higher value fuels, like jet fuel. “That’s a lot more value,” Baerg said.

Baerg is in an industry involving many high tech methods. Referrals from existing customers speaks to the company’s reputation and the quality of their machines. “We stand behind what we make,” Baerg said.

Published in the June 2017 Edition of American Recycler News