Netafim USA has been operating in Fresno for nearly 40 years developing and manufacturing drip irrigation systems. Photo contributed
Written by Gabriel Dillard
Netafim USA, a subsidiary of Israel-based irrigation solutions company Netafim Ltd, announced it will manufacture its innovative drip irrigation system, FlexNet, in Fresno.
The multi-million-dollar investment in the company’s Central Valley operations will allow Netafim to deliver its FlexNet product to North American customers more efficiently to meet growing demand.
The investment also includes the purchase and renovation of a recycling center in Fowler to reuse materials to manufacture Netafim products.
This expansion will create more than a dozen new jobs — with more anticipated in the near future.
For nearly 40 years, Netafim USA has been operating out of Fresno, developing and manufacturing drip irrigation systems for the agriculture, landscape and turf, greenhouse and nursery, mining and wastewater industries.
The first expansion outside of Israel, where the technology was invented and developed, of Netafim into the U.S. started in Southern California, but with the Central Valley’s role in agriculture, Fresno became the perfect to expand its headquarters and manufacturing.
Mike Hemman, president and CEO of Netafim USA, said the expansion of manufacturing operations in Fresno was driven in part by global supply chain challenges. The result will be reduced lead time and more flexibility for farmers.
“Over the years our business has really expanded,” Hemman said. “We have moved and evolved from supplying just that one piece of the irrigation system [dripline] to being able to supply an entire irrigation system.”
This includes automation systems, filtration systems, and the use of precision data to determine water delivery and scheduling.
Hemman said the U.S. is a big market for Netafim, and it made sense to bring production of FlexNet to Fresno and that company leaders are proud to bring new jobs and revenue to the city.
The expansion includes erecting walls and installing equipment in the existing facility near Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
The basic equipment to manufacture FlexNet — described by the company as a “flexible, lightweight piping solution for above- and below-ground drip irrigation systems” — totals in the millions of dollars.
Part of the production line includes customized components that Netafim USA’s engineering team has to develop and build, which requires resources from Israel and other global plants and training for the team.
A team was brought from Israel and set up in an Airbnb to work here for several months to help the Netafim USA facility get its line operational — and get the team trained.
A big part of the renovation is also ensuring better climate control in the manufacturing area of the facility.
“There’s a lot of building modification going into putting in larger walls, hermetically sealing off different areas — there’s a pretty significant infrastructure change even within our existing footprint, in addition to the manufacturing and equipment,” Hemman said.
Hemman said as the company got deeper into understanding the need to operate in a more sustainable manner, recycling was a key component.
He said Netafim USA is the only company in the industry that has a vertically integrated recycling and manufacturing footprint.
An existing recycling plant in Fowler was purchased around three years ago with a $2 million state grant. Because of the benefit Netafim USA was bringing to the local community and recycling, the plant was expanded, Hemman said.
The footprint of the building has not changed, but the set up inside has changed to allow for an expansion of the manufacturing line.
The process for recycling at the Fowler plant includes collecting the used drip tube from growers all over California, shredding it, washing it and pelletizing it thousands of tons per year to be recycled for new irrigation tubing.
Netafim USA also has a 103,000 square-foot distribution center in Fresno on Peach and McKinley avenues that has expanded due to limited space for administrative operations.
Since the pandemic began, a challenge for the company has been the availability of raw materials — and the increasing prices of raw materials.
Hemman said that there is also a big supply constraint on materials largely due to the growth of precision irrigation in recent years.
Precision water delivery methods are more efficient than flood irrigating or sprinkler irrigating a field, and it is very common that fields in the Central Valley use drip irrigation.
Hemman said crops one wouldn’t normally think of using drip irrigation are now utilizing the method, including Texas cotton.
“These types of macrotrends are driving more demand for our product, and it’s putting a lot of additional demand on a very small supply chain. What we are seeing is the companies that we buy raw materials from expanding their manufacturing footprint to keep up with this pace,” Hemman said.