New OMRI-Approved Products for Organic Growers w/ Loran Kaiser & Stan Buman
Interview with Loran Kaiser, General Manager, & Stan Buman, Business Development Manager, of Avé Organics
On this week’s Organics Unpacked podcast, Tom interviews Loran Kaiser and Stan Buman, members of the Avé Organics team. They discuss several new OMRI-approved products that could be game changers for organic growers, including a liquid nitrogen called TerraPreme and a dry chicken manure called VydaTilth. This special panel was co-hosted by the Iowa Organic Association.
Learn more about the Iowa Organic Association: www.iowaorganic.org
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INTRO: Welcome to Organics Unpacked, a podcast for the business-minded organic grower — an interview podcast where we hear from the top experts in the commercial organic industry — with a focus on the business elements of organic growing both in and out of the field. You will gain insight and grow your operation. This show is brought to you ad-free by Avé Organics, a Wilbur-Ellis company. To learn more about Avé Organics, visit our program notes. In the meantime, enjoy the show.
TOM: Hello, everyone, and thanks for tuning in today. This is a special episode of Organics Unpacked, a podcast where we discuss organic farming from a practical view, and I’m your host, Tom Buman. With that said, today, I’m joined by Loran Kaiser and Stan Buman. Loran and Stan work for Avé Organics, a subsidiary of Wilbur-Ellis, and they’re here to share some information on a new organic fertilizer that’s available to Iowa farmers. So, Loran and Stan, welcome to Organics Unpacked.
LORAN: Thank you very much for having us. Excited to be here.
The Origins of Avé Organics
TOM: I think this is a great topic, and we appreciate the two of you taking part. So, Loran, I’m going to start with you. Avé Organics, obviously, I work on the team too, right? So we are a new company. Could you tell us, in your mind — you’ve been around it the longest — what are the origins of Avé Organics? Why did it come about? What’s the history? And, really, what are you attempting to do?
LORAN: So, about a couple years back, a little over a couple years, Wilbur-Ellis had a branded products division that was looking for another form of organic fertilizer for the organic division of the branded products team. They were able to come across some technology that really interested them and a bunch of their growers that was a liquid organic nitrogen. And we found a group that was from the east coast that had moved into the Midwest. And they went by the name of NuOrganics, and they had a patented technology that they were able to come up with a process that they could deliver on this liquid fertilizer. And along the way, there were a couple things that we ran into, and one of them was the dry product that was also being made as they were utilizing their process. And we decided that we needed to put a team together. So we’re launching Avé Organics, which, as you explained, is just a handful of us that are working on this project. And we’re working with a bunch of poultry barns and other organic companies. And we’re basically putting it out there that we’ve got a couple products now that we’re going to bring to the market, both of which we’re very excited about. And we’re working on a bunch of others that I’m sure we’ll talk about as we go further into the show.
A New OMRI-Approved Liquid Product
TOM: So you talked about the products and the way you found this special liquid product that you’re calling TerraPreme, right? Where will the TerraPreme be used, largely? What marketplace will it go?
LORAN: So the market that was asking for TerraPreme, and let’s back up a little bit. So TerraPreme is going to be an 8% liquid ammonium nitrate. It’s basically what it is. It is a 100% plant-readily-available form of nitrogen. And the reason that it came about is because they were listening to all the customer feedback and customer requests that were coming from the west coast — and even some of the other places in the U.S. that have the specialty crops — but the majority of it was coming from the specialty crops. It’s something that’s needed. There are a few other ways that they could do it, but a lot of it either takes a long time for it to become plant-readily-available, or it’s just not the funnest stuff in the world to work with. So they were really looking for something that was easy handling, easy application, all that kind of stuff. And with the TerraPreme product that we have come across and will eventually have for the marketplace, they got exactly that. When it goes through the patented technology, when it runs through the facility over there in Iowa, they’re basically capturing the ammonia. It’s turning it back into a liquid product. Then, obviously, it goes through their patented process. And lo and behold, we get an 8% nitrogen out of the deal, and I can go into more specifics if we need to. There are other people that can speak a lot more in depth about it, as well. But at the end of the day, it was about listening to the customers — what they were asking for — and trying to deliver a product to the market that is something that they were looking for.
TOM: And this 8−0−0, this TerraPreme, is OMRI approved. So it is ready for the organic market, right?
LORAN: That is correct. Yep, we received OMRI approval. We’re still waiting on CDFA. But pretty much, we’re getting close to the point where we’re getting all the boxes checked, and it’s going to be ready for the launch.
TOM: So CDFA — California Department of Agriculture — their organic approval, we’re also working on that too, right?
LORAN: Yep, that is correct. OMRI certification was done. California has some rules in place for the right reasons. But a lot of them are a few more hoops and a few more T’s to cross and I’s to dot, so it’s just taking a little bit longer.
A New OMRI-Approved Dry Product
TOM: Sure. Okay, so we’ve got the liquid, but what we’re mainly talking about today is the byproduct of the process: the dry part that remains, right? So you’re taking the ammonia off the top before it escapes when we do things like hauling and application and any incorporation. That smell that we smell is the ammonia leaving, and we’re capturing it in this process. But then, in the end, we get this dry product. Tell us a little bit about that.
LORAN: Yep, so that was another process of listening to what the customers wanted. So, like you just mentioned, Tom, working with raw manure in the organic world is nothing new. It’s been going on for years and years and years. But what we did want was something that was easier to handle and something that could transport further. And obviously, there are still quite a few people in this realm of the world, too, that are handling crumble or pelleted manures. There’s limited access to a lot of those facilities. So what we wanted to do when we’d seen the type of scale that this facility was going to bring to the market, we wanted to be able to make sure that we could deliver on this product to the rest of the clientele or the farmers out there that were wanting some sort of a manure-based product. But that doesn’t make sense financially to haul raw manure to the distances that they needed. Plus we knew we were going to have the volume where we can service a lot more people in a given area. And as we found out, Tom, it can transfer. It can haul a lot further than what we originally thought. At first, we were considering a byproduct, and a lot of people didn’t know what to do. Then, that’s kind of where we created our group at Avé Organics. So we have a crumbled 4−4−3. It’s what we call our VydaTilth product. It comes out at about 10% moisture, give or take, one way or the other. It’s going to weigh about 42 pounds. It really has delivered a nice product. In the early stages, we had some issues with making sure that the size was fairly accurate, but what they’re shooting for for the VydaTilth product is about a 3 to 5 millimeter-in-size crumble. And for the most part, if it’s too small, they call that the ‘fines,’ and they sift that out. And we do something else with that. Then, if it’s too large, it obviously goes back through the process. But at the end of the day, we’re expecting this one facility to produce anywhere from 60 to 80,000 tons of VydaTilth per year.
The Physical Properties of VydaTilth
TOM: Okay, and this all originates from poultry manure, right?
LORAN: It’s 100% poultry manure.
TOM: So we’re taking some poultry manure off the market, running it through the process. We end up with the VydaTilth. Like you said, it’s got really nice properties. Talk a little bit about the odors and handling it. When you have manure, you often have water quality issues where you pile it. You might have some issues with odor or flies or stuff like that. Talk a little bit about some of those physical properties, how VydaTilth is different from maybe raw manure.
LORAN: Well, number one, the feedback you get from people handling raw manure is usually — I mean, yes, they love the aspect of what it brings to their field — but the handling and the application, all that stuff, can be a challenge. One of the things of the raw manure that we were taking off the market was the quality. It was a lot of the manures that people didn’t like to handle. It’s the wetter stuff, some of the stuff that barns were having a more difficult time getting rid of. Running it through this process obviously makes it a lot easier to handle. You’ve eliminated the large piles that sometimes your neighbors aren’t always overly excited to have next to their field: the pathogens and the smell, like you were talking about. You’re not planting trees, right? It takes the place of something that was a bit of an eyesore, and you’re still receiving the same benefits that you would be with the raw fertilizer. There are a couple of differences, but you’re taking away a lot of the weed seeds, when it’s going through this process, and some of the pathogens that people didn’t want. But overall, Tom, you’re basically getting a much better quality. You’re getting a lot easier to handle, and we’ve found multiple methods of application that people really seem to benefit from. It’s so much easier to handle.
Applying VydaTilth to Your Fields
TOM: So, Stan, I’m going to switch to you. I know that you’ve been around the application of it a little bit. Talk about some of that. I mean, we know with raw manure, we’re spreading with a manure spreader, for the most part. We get as consistent spreading as possible, but, still, manure is inconsistent. What are ways that we can take this VydaTilth and apply it with?
STAN: So, again, you still can use that manure spreader if that is your main method of application. I have also worked with a private retailer who put it in an air spreader and spread it that way. So, as Loran said, it’s a very good product, easy to handle. A spreader cart, like a fertilizer cart, you could use that also. So there are multiple ways to spread it, and it is a very easy product to handle.
TOM: Okay, and so, then, the application spread, I mean, is pretty consistent? Loran talked about how it’s pretty dense, and I assume it throws out pretty well.
STAN: Yeah, so it would be very much like spreading commercial fertilizer. We’ve done a little bit of tests where we’ve put out some instruments across the row and measured the amount of spread, and it’s a very uniform spread from what we’ve seen.
LORAN: And just to throw in there too, Tom and Stan, is the other application methods that we’ve used are strip-tilling. Running it through a Montag or a SoilWarrior or any of that kind of stuff, it flows, actually, very nice, and it was kind of a pleasant surprise. But a lot of people have gone to that method, so they’re getting it more focused right there in the row.
Delivering VydaTilth to Your Farm
TOM: No, I think that’s a really good add-on. Thanks, Loran. So let’s talk about trucking, Loran, because I know one of the services that Avé Organics helps with is I know people can come and pick it up at the plant if they want to, I assume, but how do you get this material out? It’s sitting in Clarion, Iowa. A farmer in Newton, Iowa wants some of it. What’s the methodology? How do they contact you? How do they get it delivered? What’s the supply chain look like?
LORAN: Well, like you said, you can go to the website and get all of our contact information. And the other thing that we’ve done is we’re going to start to list some of the dealers that we’ve been working with. We’re listing their information on the website, as well. We’ve got a very good but very tight dealer network that we’ve started with. But basically, everything gets priced FOB, Clarion, Iowa. And if you’re working with a dealer in the area already, great. If you’re not, we can either help introduce, or we can work something out where we can get to the farm. We can find a way to get the product to your farm. We have a handful of third-party logistics and freight and hauling companies that we’re working with. So we have had very good luck, basically, getting anybody lined up to get the product to where we need to go. And this stuff has traveled a lot farther than I think any of us ever thought it would. It’s gone from central Iowa over to Nebraska, up to Minnesota, over to the east coast. We’re doing some work in Pennsylvania and all the way down, even, to Florida and into Texas. So the stuff gets in a truck, and it travels really well. It seems like the quality stays very well intact when it gets there.
TOM: So, obviously, when it’s getting to Florida, it’s probably not going on corn and beans. But somebody, at some point in time, thinks it’s valuable enough to come pay the price in Clarion and ship it all the way to Florida.
LORAN: Again, that’s just kind of making the product available in the marketplace. There are multiple different produce that are raised down in Florida. I mean, I don’t have a list of everything they have down there. Making it available is what we really noticed, that when you make your product available, there are a lot of people out there that would like to have access to it, and this is just helping them get access to it by having it be able to travel so well.
TOM: Obviously, the outreach arm of Wilbur-Ellis on the ag retail side really helps Avé Organics fit into that organic space and get the word out, I’m assuming.
LORAN: Yes, very much so. The last three or four years, Wilbur has been dedicating a lot more of their time, energy and resources to really getting into the sustainability message and modeling. And the family themselves, that’s the direction they would like to go, and they’ve really been following it up for the last four years. Launching Avé Organics is just one of the few things that they’re doing to help, really, enter into the organic market.
VydaTilth Pricing & Transportation Costs
TOM: So, Loran, talk a little bit. Are you prepared to talk about the cost, what your pricing the VydaTilth at, and then what transportation costs might roughly be if somebody’s looking at getting it hauled to their place?
LORAN: Transportation cost has been kind of all over the board. Honestly, it’s just kind of a call, and then get the pricing on the freight. That’s basically up to the third-party handlers, and we can just find the one that would fit you best or the one that’s closest or the one that has the best rate. As far as the pricing on the product, that has gone from a real steady-Eddie price to now the raw manure that we’re accessing has been kind of following the conventional markets for some reason. And everybody’s trying to get more out of their N, P and K these days, and so we’ve kind of been at the mercy of that market. That, we’re probably going to be safe to say: ‘Call and see.’ Or you can call any of our dealers and just get pricing that way. I mean, that way, you know for sure. You can say where you’re at, where you’re going, and you can get a pricing on the product, and then you can get a pricing on the freight, as well.
TOM: Okay, so you’re seeing what we see in the commercial market. An increase in our primary nutrients — N, P and K — we’re also seeing that in the organic market too.
LORAN: Yes, very much so. The people that are handling the raw product — so the raw goods — they’re trying to capture as much out of this market, as well. That’s who we have to source product from, and that’s the hand that we’re dealt. So we’re just trying to play it as best we can.
TOM: Okay, thanks, Loran. So, Stan, an important part of this to, obviously, organic farmers, is the OMRI certification or the OMRI listing, I guess. When did the product VydaTilth get listed? Is everything ready to go if somebody wants the label with the OMRI listing on it? Is that all ready to go?
STAN: Yeah, the OMRI listing is on the label already. I think this was done probably about a couple of months ago. So, when you get the label, the OMRI listing will be right on the label.
Organic Pelleted Chicken Manure
TOM: Loran, you have one other product: Hudson Pellet. So you have the VydaTilth, which is this crumble, you said 3‑to‑5 millimeter, coming out of Clarion, Iowa. But I noticed you also have a pellet of chicken manure. A little bit on that?
LORAN: Yep, so both of them fall underneath VydaTilth. VydaTilth is basically going to be our branding. It’s going to be what we call our dry product lineup, and the one we have in the VydaTilth is Auctus, which is the crumble that comes out of central Iowa there in Clarion. Then, over in Hudson, Colorado, we have access to a pelleted product, which is about a quarter-inch by half-inch, right in that ballpark. Very, very good product. It is also a 4−4−3, but it’s just a pellet instead of a crumble. But some people prefer a pellet. Some people prefer a crumble. It just depends on what you’re looking for. To be honest with you, I think they both flow really well. They both spread really well. If I had to pick anything that I would say there’s a difference between the two is if you’re going with the strip-till option, sometimes the VydaTilth Auctus, which is the crumble, might flow a little bit better in that system. But there are still plenty of people that have been using the pellets in those systems too. The difference is one’s over in Hudson, Colorado, which is halfway in between Fort Morgan and Denver. Then, the other one is in Clarion, Iowa, obviously.
New Products from Avé Organics
TOM: So, before we open this up to questions from the audience, Loran, I know that Avé Organics kind of works in the space of organic products that are either manure or derived from manure. I know that you’re scanning the environment out there, looking for other products to pick up. Are there any new things out there that you see coming to the organic market that may be available to organic farmers in Iowa over the next couple years?
LORAN: Yep, I know we’re always looking. The number-one question and request and the thing that we get is people are looking for a source of nitrogen. Manures are fantastic today, with the organic matter and the nitrogen you get and all the rest of the nutrients. I mean, everybody knows the benefits of manure, I’m assuming. But the one thing that sometimes people say, that we get the feedback on, is they’ve been using beef manure or dairy manure or whatever. Well, their P levels — their phos levels — are sometimes getting out of control. So we’re really trying to listen, and we’re really trying to keep searching for those straight nitrogen products. And there are a couple other liquids that we’re looking at that are on the marketplace. They’re still in the early stages. We’ve got to make sure that they’re getting OMRI approval, and they’re doing everything the right way. But everything is manure-based that we’re looking at. There’s some new technology, and there are some new ideas out there that we’re paying close attention to. And in a lot of cases, we’re even working side by side with some of them as they come along with these products. But here, I think, in probably 6 to 12 months, I think we’re going to have a couple new ideas that we’d like to present to the organic world and the organic farmers that I think will help make things a lot easier as far as sourcing their nitrogen.
Benefits of VydaTilth for Organic Growers
TOM: Well, I think there are a lot of people that will be excited about hearing about those. The sooner, the better, I’m sure. Stan, is there anything that we missed talking about VydaTilth?
STAN: Well, I think just a couple things. We’ve touched on some of them. When you’re working with the VydaTilth, because a lot of the ammonia has been driven off in the heating process, there is less odor. It’s still a manure-based product. There’s still going to be an odor. I don’t want to claim that there isn’t, but, definitely, the odor is reduced. The other thing is that by heating it, you’re dealing with a dry product. Flies are just not as much of an issue with that either. But then, the weed seed, because it’s heated up, it kills the weed seed germ. And on the tests we’ve run, we have not been able to find any live seeds in there. So I think, from an organic standpoint, where weeds are always an issue, a product like this, where you can reduce the weed seeds that you’re importing to your farm? So much the better.
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