Recycling Material Into Organic Inputs w/ Rick Geise
Interview with Rick Geise, Director of the Organic Fertilizer Division at Nature Safe
We welcome Rick Geise, the Director of the Organic Fertilizer Division for Nature Safe, a subsidiary of Darling Ingredients. Rick discusses various ways to improve the sustainability and profitability of organic farms, including the recycling of raw material into organic inputs.
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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. Thanks for tuning in today. Welcome to a new episode of Organics Unpacked, a podcast where we discuss organic farming from a practical view. I am your host, Tom Buman. Today, I’m joined by Rick Geise. Rick is the Director of the Fertilizer Division for Nature Safe Natural & Organic Fertilizer, which is a division of Darling Ingredients. Rick, welcome to Organics Unpacked.
RICK: Hi Tom. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
TOM: Absolutely. It’s good to have you here today, Rick. Rick, before we get started, I’d like to have you talk a little bit about your background. How did you get to this position of where you are today?
RICK: Sure. I actually started off, out of college, had multiple majors, mostly business-oriented — production and operations, management and purchasing and marketing — and worked in banking. And made a transition early in my career to an agribusiness called Griffin Industries. That was a recycling company that focused on recycling inedible animal byproducts into all sorts of different product streams — namely, animal feeds but also organic fertilizers, renewable fuels and even trimmed and cured sow and beef hides for the leather industry. So I started in that role, in a marketing role, and really enjoyed the work, enjoyed the company. It just so happened our most marketing-driven product was our organic fertilizer business. In fact, it was just like Darling Ingredients now. It was the only product that would be classified as kind of a typical finish good. So I naturally moved more into organic fertilizer. And 25 years later, I’ve made a career out of it. It’s what I do.
Now, about 10 years ago, we were acquired. Griffin Industries was acquired by a company called Darling International, now Darling Ingredients. It’s a global agribusiness that does the same basic thing that Griffin industries had done, which is we recycle inedible animal byproducts. Everything you and I don’t consume from a cow, chicken, pig is what we recycle, and those products end up into all sorts of interesting product streams that touch our everyday lives. And we have — I don’t know, 38 countries now that we operate in, on five continents, and we have three organic fertilizer production facilities in the U.S. that serve primarily organic agriculture. But we also do a lot with golf course/sports turf lawn care, and we do some private label work, as well.
Mission of Nature Safe
TOM: Interesting. So, Rick, it seems like you’ve been in the recycling business for a long time, maybe ahead of most people, so that’s pretty cool. But tell me a little bit about Nature Safe, if you will. Tell me about your products, your mission, if you offer services. Just kind of in a nutshell, what is Nature Safe?
RICK: Sure. Well, to understand Nature Safe, it’s good to kind of really go back a little bit on that Darling Ingredients and Griffin Industries lineage, being a staple in animal nutrition. If we never sold a bag of organic fertilizer or a ton of organic fertilizer, all of the protein, all the organic nitrogen-phosphorus-calcium components that make up our organic fertilizer would otherwise be sold as feed ingredients to poultry production, swine production, aquaculture, even pet foods. Our methodology, from an organic fertilizer standpoint, is to take the science and expertise that we apply to how to feed a dog, a cat, a chicken and apply that to how to fertilize the soil and the plant. And the principles are very similar. It’s about how concentrated we can make that organic fertilizer and how controlled and complete we can process that material so it gives a very consistent release from a mineralization standpoint. Again, our whole subject matter expertise is heavily leveraged on animal nutrition and its applications to agronomy or soil and plant nutrition.
Geographical Footprint of Nature Safe
TOM: So tell me about your footprint of Nature Safe. Are you kind of a local company? National? International?
RICK: So Darling is headquartered in Irving, Texas. We have, actually, three production facilities that serve the continental U.S. One is in Henderson, Kentucky, another in Fremont, Nebraska and a third in Turlock, California. Each does a little bit. The latter two, the Nebraska and California facilities, are very focused on organic agriculture. The Henderson flagship location that is the longest tenured and the one that we’ve always made Nature Safe at for 30-plus years is really kind of a jack of all trades. We do a lot in that turf business for golf course/sports turf lawn care. That’s where we do some of our private label work, where we can make products that find their way onto a big box retail shelf. Then, of course, organic agriculture really started there and started where we were just kind of picking up the phone when people were calling and saying, ‘Hey, I could use some help growing fill in the blank.’
Usually, our response was, ‘Well, we can tell you how our products work, and then let’s just see how that is applicable to what you’re trying to do.’ And that’s kind of how it’s grown and, certainly, Darling Ingredients, which we’re a publicly traded company. We have been around since 1882. So the really interesting lineage connection there is that rendering, which is what our business is, its first use of those materials going back hundreds of years was as fertilizer. So we’re kind of getting back to our roots when we talk about Nature Safe and getting back to what we originally were doing when the business was started, which was really providing a recycling system or service, and then what to do with that material, which was principally to put it back into the soil as a fertilizer product. So Darling was founded in 1882. What is that? Almost 140 years of recycling and environmental stewardship.
Supplying Organic Inputs
TOM: So, Rick, let’s talk a little bit about your organic products. Talk about the products that organic farmers are coming to you for, where they come from, their source, and then how do you distribute them if a farmer’s interested?
RICK: We have a pretty extensive product line, and the reason why is because our core inputs of what we produce, or are vertically integrated from a production standpoint, are really in those feed ingredients like meat, bone, blood, feather meals. Those are the inputs that, again, if we never sold another bag of fertilizer, those are principally sold as feed ingredients. We can take and alter the inclusion rate of those inputs. Typically, we’ll add a potash source, either sulfate of potash or Sul-Po-Mag, primarily because our proteins are usually high in organic nitrogen. They can be high in phosphorus and calcium, but they’re, typically, relatively low in soluble potassium. So, if we’re looking for a K2O on the label, as a general rule, we’re adding either SOP or Sul-Po-Mag to that formulation. But from that, we’re able to produce some very highly-concentrated organic and material review organization-reviewed and approved and accepted materials. OMRI, CDFA, ODA, WSDA all have reviewed products like our 13−0−0 as a staple, all-organic organic nitrogen product.
We have a 10−2−8. A 9−6−1 is a very popular formulation for organic growers. 8−5−5. 10−2−8. So we have a pretty broad product offering. If you look at CDFA, I just got their updated product listing of the products we have listed with the California Department of Food and Ag and their Organic Input Materials Program. I think there are like 27 products that are under the Nature Safe brand. In addition to those granulated or pelleted products that are dry controlled-release products, we have a couple of liquid products, where we’re using a fermented plant or corn extract. We have some dry flowables, also from a fermented corn extract concentrate. We have another dry flowable made from some porcine-derived blood or meat/protein isolate-type materials. So we’ve got a pretty broad product offering, all with the expectation of trying to figure out — rather than us say it’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ — let’s figure out what it is that we do, what the customer really needs and how it can best help them with the right product and support them that way.
Products for High-Value Crops
TOM: So are most of your products kind of targeted towards those high-value crops? Fruits and vegetables? Nuts? Or are they more targeted towards row crops? More of your corn and soybeans? Or do you have products for both?
RICK: I think there’s definitely an evolution to that. Certainly, we cut our teeth on the higher-value crops, and some of those are crops that you kind of scratch your head and say, ‘I wasn’t quite sure that existed.’ Like organic tobacco or certain crops that may not be in our everyday thought process of what we might buy at the grocer. But, certainly, the row crops, and corn and soybeans being critical to that, always looking to say, ‘How can you help me improve our yields?’ What I would look at, or how we would address those opportunities, though, is to say, if you’re growing organic corn, you’re not going to say, ‘I’m going to deliver all of my NPK from products like Nature Safe supplies.’ The primary reason for that is it’s just probably not going to be cost effective to do that. And we try to take a pretty literal look at that, to say, ‘Well, here’s where we do a really nice job with organic corn, for example.’ And, as a general rule, if you’re growing organic corn, more often than not, you’re also doing a lot of nutrient loading with poultry litter or some other manure-type product. And we certainly encourage that.
There’s a whole bunch of manure out there, and we certainly encourage its use. And what we do is we actually complement those applications, and we help drill down into some additional release characteristics and not just deliver a consistent, predictable release of what is applied and at what time that’s applied and what you can expect from that application in the form of Nature Safe. But you kind of get this ‘one plus one equals three’ effect by: if you’ve got a lot of nutrient loading that’s gone on, a lot of that material is just sitting there. So I always say it’s kind of like having a bank account where you lost your PIN number, and you’re trying to get some money, and if you’re like me, to give to your daughter in college or something like that. And you’re saying, ‘Okay, how do you do that? What do we do?’ Well, we create an ecosystem where we’re super-stimulating or hyper-stimulating that environment by feeding those beneficial soil microbes, which, through their growth and success and explosion, helps tap into some of what was previously unreleased nutrients that are tied up in the soil. And that synergy, then, translates into not just a very efficient feed but a very cost-effective, nice return-on-investment type of a feed, as well. So we’ve yet to figure out how to make it rain when there’s a drought or how to deal with other challenges. But we certainly know how to feed the soil, and that’s our strength.
TOM: So, if a farmer is using some of the raw manures — and we all know they’re inconsistent, a little unpredictable — you use a soil amendment to kind of improve that consistency and availability?
RICK: Tom, I would say I wouldn’t use the term ‘amendment’ because, when I think of an amendment, I think of, really, what you’re saying on the front end of that. If you’re using manures, I think, as a general rule — and I’m certainly, please hear me say it, being pro-manure. I support the use of manure. I think you’re getting equal parts a soil amendment as you are an organic fertilizer. Our product, I would say you are not getting a soil amendment. What you’re really getting is an absolute soil food. And through that, if you put down that 13−0−0 product that I’d talked about, that product has over 80% protein, over 75% amino acids. So, for every 200 pounds of product, you’re putting 160 pounds of protein. 150-plus pounds of amino acids are going down, and that’s very available, very digestible. It’s going to release, depending on temperature and moisture, in a 10-to-12-week period. After that, you’ll have some residual value from that kind of fertilizer factory effect. Your exploding soil microbes, those microbes are going to decompose and further provide nutrition to the plant, but then it’s gone. You’re not having these additional amendments or remnants there. It’s done its deed. And that deed is very much centered on feeding the soil and then, in turn, feeding the plant.
So, when we look at, again, that complement to a typical program that involves manure applications or cover cropping, which we encourage. We see what happens, typically, on a manure application is a lot of that’s done pre-plant. Whenever you smell poultry litter, you’re not smelling litter. You’re smelling ammonia, right? And that’s a quick-release, very available material. Maybe half of that material is going to be a fairly typical release, like how Nature Safe would release. Then the balance is likely that, kind of, that bank account that we lost the PIN number. It’s going to release eventually, but it’s hard to say exactly when. So what we really try to focus on is creating a very predictable, consistent, complete release over the window for when it’s applied in that 10 – 12 week period, and then that additional synergy of tapping into some of that unreleased benefits. So you’re not going to completely use up the soil amendment that was provided in the form of the manure, but you’re certainly going to better utilize that during the growing season that you’re targeting.
Supply & Demand of Organic Inputs
TOM: So one of the things I’ve always wondered about, Rick, is a lot of the products that you use. They come to you on a regular basis, right? Rendering works don’t shut down for when the crop is in the field. How do you deal with the consistent supply of raw materials coming into you and, then, the inconsistent process of you selling products?
RICK: Yeah, it’s a good question, Tom, because I always say we’re not quite as seasonal as selling Christmas trees, but we’re not super far off of that mentality. So the challenge with our plants, especially like in Kentucky, as a good example — we’ve got four seasons in Kentucky, and they’re pretty balanced. They’re three months each. So we’ve got to figure out: how do you run a consistent operation, multiple shifts, keeping people employed year-round and cash flow that business properly? So, for us, a key element to that is diversification of the business and the markets. Geographic diversification and market diversification, and that’s worked. That’s been a very effective strategy, but on the quality control side, it’s so much easier to have consistent inputs if you have consistent demand. It’s when you have the inconsistency that it becomes a whole lot more challenging.
So, if you can first create consistency of demand to serve those various markets, then we can, then, in essence, have our dibs first in line for the inputs. At Henderson, Kentucky, our first purpose, if you will, of why Nature Safe was created was really to find a home for feather meal. Now, we’re certainly just as focused on finding a home for materials like meat and bone meal. But the feather meal, just out of good luck, we have a number of production facilities that vertically integrate into that Henderson location that are fairly close in proximity and have an incredible quality control program that ensures that. I feel like we can say with confidence that we enjoy the highest-quality organic inputs of any organic fertilizer on the market, which allows us to, then, be confident in making the highest-quality organic outputs by making organic fertilizers that deliver because of that consistency. And, again, for us, there’s not a real secret formula other than saying, ‘If it doesn’t make a really good feed ingredient, I don’t believe it’ll make a really good organic fertilizer.’ Because I believe the principles are very, very similar.
Black Soldier Fly Larvae
TOM: So, throughout the history of Nature Safe, you must have developed new products. Are there new products out there that you’re looking at that go, ‘Wow, that would make an interesting fit.’ Because you really are into recycling, right? You’re recycling a lot of things into an organic fertilizer. Are there things out there you’ve thought, ‘Wow, well, that’s interesting. I’ve not thought about that before. Maybe that would make an organic fertilizer used in organic farming.’
RICK: Tom, that’s a good question because you’re right. Our core business has always kind of stayed true to those feed ingredients, but even that business and Darling is entrepreneurial. And we’re doing some things today that, if you had told me we would do this 10 years ago, I’d be like, ‘There’s no way. I’ve never even heard of such a thing.’ And a good example is we have a business called EnviroFlight. EnviroFlight is where we actually produce and harvest black soldier fly larvae. We have a commercial producing facility in Maysville, Kentucky, where we are literally breeding these black soldier flies that are creating a larva that starts off about the head of your pen, from a size standpoint, then, in a very short period of time, just grows exponentially. Then they are harvested to create, in essence, a similar product stream to what is our core business, which is the selling or the recycling of fats and proteins. So I always say, ‘If you think about the big picture of what we do, it’s like frying bacon in a pan.’ We take heat and steam pressure and apply it to a raw material that creates an oil or a fat or a grease on one end and a meal or a protein on the other.
Well, in essence, we’re doing something very similar to that with this black soldier fly larvae. There is a product stream from that called frass, which is the exoskeletons and some of the excrements from that black soldier fly larvae production process and even some, maybe, unconsumed feedstock that is fed as part of their feeding regimen. And that material could very well have all sorts of different benefits for organic agriculture or agriculture in general. It could be that there’s chitin in those materials, and that chitin might have nematode suppression properties or other values that we just haven’t quite learned or figured out yet. So this is a very emerging business and one that we’re continuing to invest and grow. A lot of the materials are ultimately finding little niche markets, be it pet foods. Even some of these materials find their way into your local zoos to feed the various animals that are housed there. So it’s a lot of different things that we’re certainly learning and trying to figure out, ‘What are those applications, or what are the opportunities that a material like that can represent?’
Recycling in a Closed-Loop System
TOM: So do you think that, as a society, we’re moving more towards developing technologies that let us get more closely to that closed-loop system, where we’re recycling more of the things by different technologies? This black soldier fly, I find fascinating if it really delivers on the promise. It’s really a cool technology to take food waste or something else and turn it into an organic fertilizer, if you will.
RICK: Well, I think when you think of a closed loop, I think of how we’ve always looked at this. You mentioned about, maybe, in my career, I was doing organics before organics were cool. Or we were green when green was just a color, or however we phrase that. The interesting element is that we truly are recyclers, and to the point where we can’t sell what we can’t make, and we can’t make what we can’t recycle from raw material. So that is the very essence of what we do. And because of that, I feel like we are truly global models of environmental stewardship excellence. But when I apply that thinking to what else is happening out there, I just think that environmental stewardship, resource conservation, sustainability — all of those are part of any good go-to-market strategy. Sustainability is just as much the ability to continue to operate as it is to turn a fair profit.
And all of those elements need to play a role. So, when we look at what we do, we try to take a pretty simple approach. How can we help people? How can we apply what we do — and, hopefully, what we do really well — to a market or to a customer that has a need that we can help? And if we can help them enough, everybody wins. I think it’s like the Zig Ziglar adage, or maybe it was Earl Nightingale who said, ‘You can get anything you want out of life so long as you help enough other people get what they want.’ And I think that, in a very real sense, that’s our position. Our belief in what we do is, ‘How do we apply what we do really well to help people in as varied a way as we can?’ We’re still learning, certainly, about that.
Products for Organic or Conventional Farming
TOM: So what percent of your products that you produce go to strictly an organic target versus non-organic or more conventional farming methods?
RICK: Well, I would say, in our two facilities — the Nebraska facility and the California facility — 100% of that production is earmarked for organic crop production. We are certainly doing analysis and some research, to say, ‘Are there ways we can help conventional growers?’ I think you and I had thrown around some numbers recently about how much manure is out there. I believe it’s somewhere in this unbelievable number, like one ton of manure is created every year for every man, woman and child in the U.S., which is hard to even fathom. But I believe that to be a fairly accurate number. Almost certainly, a very large percentage of that manure that we think of as organic is ultimately going to conventional agriculture to nutrient-load those soils. So the thought is to say, ‘Are there roles that we could play in conventional agriculture where we could do what we were talking about just a minute ago?’ Can we help people? Can we help them achieve some level of success that would matter to their crops, to their soil, to their business? And we are doing research. We are currently looking at that in a number of different angles to try and answer that question and determine how we can best help.
Creating a Nutrition Foundation
TOM: So those products that can be used in conventional agriculture have to have a pretty low price point. And if they also fit into organic agriculture, what a great win for organic farmers, because that price point would be so much lower.
RICK: That whole analysis is really to determine, ‘Will there be?’ Markets can change. Regulatory issues can change. So we look at our role, and we say, ‘How do we create contingency plans based on change?’ As long as we continue to play to our strengths, I have every confidence that we’re going to help the people that we’re trying to work with and support. Back to your question on the various types of products that we sell, I would say we have seven or eight formulations that are strictly targeted for turf that are non-organic listed that may take what we do really well from an organic standpoint and complement that material with an inorganic nitrogen source. An ammonium sulfate, a stabilized nitrogen or urea-type product, a methylene urea, those types of materials that create a hybrid or a fortified organic go-to-market strategy, where it’s not just about using organics. We always try in those markets, the markets that are not obviously organic first in their mindset. Our whole objective there is to say, ‘How do we create a nutrition foundation that makes all the other good things they’re doing better? Chemically, culturally, biologically, how do we do that better?’ To me, it’s no different than our bodies. How do we get sick? We get sick when we’re kind of run down. We’re tired. We’re not eating right. We’re having these other stresses, and those result in, usually, the marble falling off the table. That can certainly result in a deep valley or a pretty wide valley. When you’re focusing on good nutrition and exercise and other things, it doesn’t mean you won’t get sick. But when you do, that valley tends to be not as deep and not quite as wide in the recovery.
Well, what we look at, and what we do from a fertility standpoint for turf, is somewhat similar. We’re creating a nutrition foundation. And if you believe that — and I believe this — if you believe in a stress budget. And I believe that if you’re enough of a digit head, and you applied a numerical value to stress, there’s a number that, when you reach that number, it’s the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. And I believe that if you look at organic nutrition principles of creating a healthy, vibrant soil, what that does, especially over time, is it creates a stress budget buffer. So, just for numerical purposes, if you said that number was 100 units of stress before that plant ultimately dies or withers or goes south, then, if you’re using an organic program, then, maybe after that first year, maybe that plant can withstand 105 units of stress. What’s crazy about that is, maybe, after a couple years, maybe that’s 107 or 112. Was that a big difference? It is if you’re getting 103 units of stress. It’s those little things that make a huge difference. And I really believe that is a methodology that’s worked really well for us in turf that isn’t thinking organic first but thinking, ‘How do I best manage this IPM program? How do I best manage this incredible ecosystem?’ I’m growing a golf course green at these ridiculously low mowing heights and rounds of play and extreme expectations. How do I do that? How do I increase my level of control?
Nature Safe Distribution
TOM: So you’re really building resilience into the whole process, right? Starting there with the soil. So, Rick, I’m from Iowa, right? When I need fertilizer, I walk into my local ag retailer, and I get what I need. In organic farming, it’s not always the same way, right? Sometimes you’ve got to look a little harder. How do people get a hold of Nature Safe, and how do they interact with your company if they need something?
RICK: Tom, it depends on our markets, really, and where we’re at in that kind of go-to-market strategy. As a general rule, we try to work with a distribution network because we believe that a good distribution network represents subject matter experts that are providing a broad array of solutions to that grower. And we are not naïve enough to think that we’re all that and a bag of chips. We know what we do, and we know what we do from what our strength is, but we also recognize that we’re not a one-stop shop. So there are a lot of incredibly important inputs and excellent materials that are represented by a good distributor. And those guys in the white pickup trucks tend to be subject matter experts. They tend to be solution-based.
So, when at all possible, our preference is to partner with those folks, to see, again, taking that simple mindset of, ‘How do we help?’ How do we help that distributor provide a solution that matters to that grower? How does that nutrition foundation that that product in the form of Nature Safe represents create wallet share or increased cross-sell opportunities by improving the effectiveness of all the other good things they’re doing? And I do think that Nature Safe and, certainly, organics, in general, have that unique ability to make all the other good things that are grown or that are applied or that cultural practices or biological practices that go on. It helps make them better, helps make them more effective. Just like eating right and exercise makes us healthier, same basic premise. So, again, what we would do is try and connect the dots with a good distributor. We do sell direct, in situations that warrant that, but generally speaking, we’ll work with a distributor to best serve that customer’s needs and figure out how to supply-chain that properly so that they’ve got the right product at the right time in the right amount, and go from there.
Contacting Nature Safe
TOM: So I’m interested in Nature Safe products, right? I’m an organic farmer. Want to know what you have available. Want to know where I can access a dealer. What’s the best way for me to find that information out?
RICK: Certainly on our website, www.naturesafe.com. It’s where we’ve all been conditioned to find information on whatever it is we’re interested in and on that website. We’re actually in the process of going through some reviews to continue to work to improve that website. But on a baseline, in terms of trying to find product information, trying to understand the labels, the SDS, if it’s an organic certified product or listed product with OMRI or other organizations, we certainly want to provide that information. We have contact ways to reach us if you want additional contacts. On our turf business, we’ll list a lot of our distributors. We have a listing on our website, which makes that connection. Because in all instances when we’re talking about a turf application, we’re selling through a distributor relationship. In agriculture, because there are so many other variables that may or may not be serviced by a distributor, we try to make someone on our team a gatekeeper to how we can help. Very often, that’s directing to a distributor, but it may be saying, ‘Well, how can we help you on a more direct basis?’ So it’s very situational.
TOM: So do you have agronomists on staff that can help farmers decide which are the best products?
RICK: Yeah, PCAs. The sales function is very much a consultative sale, and we’re certainly not trying to do anything that isn’t a true representation of what our products do and how they can help. Sometimes we’ll be asked questions, or an application situation comes up, and we’ll just say, ‘You know what, I’ll tell you. I don’t think we’re the right fit.’ And maybe redirect them accordingly based on what we know, and we think that’s just a good strategy to help fellow growers be successful. But when we can help, we just try to lay it out and be as clean and simple as we can in terms of what we do. Also tell what we don’t do. Weed control in the world of organics is always a challenge, and organic fertilizer doesn’t have a solution for that. There are a lot of cultural practices that have to be put in place and other challenges to address that. But we’ll tell you what we do and what we do well — and also, in some cases, what we don’t do so well — and just lay that out so we can help figure out how to move forward.
Adding New Products
TOM: Rick, if somebody looked at your products 5 – 10 years ago and didn’t find anything of interest, has your product line stayed pretty stable? Or have you added some new stuff that’s worth a new look?
RICK: Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s always been what I’ve believed to be kind of an evolutionary process, that we’ve added products as needs have dictated. Or as we say, ‘Well, you know what? We see a need for a formulation.’ So I would say, over the last five-plus years, though, that certainly kicked it up a couple of notches because our company, Darling Ingredients, looked at fertilizer and said, ‘We think this is a really good business for us to help more people.’ So there has been a different entrepreneurial element to our business, and that’s fine. You can come up with some crazy idea, like black soldier fly larvae, and the first response isn’t, ‘What the heck are you thinking?’ It’s, ‘Is there value in that? Can we do that well? Can we help people?’ And, certainly, over the last five years, we’ve added. We weren’t in the liquid business five years ago. We weren’t really in the dry flowable business. We had started about 6 – 7 years ago, but we certainly have products that are supportive of that. We’ve expanded with additional formulations.
We had a customer last year that said, ‘I really want sulfur.’ One of the funny anecdotes of a cleaner environment is that a lot of people used to get all the sulfur they wanted from acid rain. And, certainly, there are parts of the country that are a little deficient in sulfur. So we said, ‘Well, can we help there?’ Well, yeah, we can bring in a sulfur product, and we can make a formulation that creates a different kind of ratio material. If that’s of value, then great. If we can help people, we’re certainly interested in doing that. So those are just examples. And those haven’t really been vetted from a business standpoint of, ‘What will that mean five years from now?’ But they started with a grower who said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a need.’ And if our response to that kind of discussion was ‘I think we can help,’ then the next step is to do just that. And whether or not that has scalability throughout our network and turns out to be a home run or a foul ball, sometimes, is to be determined. But there’s definitely an entrepreneurial element and a different spin on things that is exciting.
What Farmers Should Know
TOM: Well, Rick, I really appreciate your time. I feel like we could spend a whole episode on the black soldier fly. I’m interested in revisiting that someday, but I really want to thank you for your time. But the last question I would have is: You’re in a room with an organic farmer for two minutes. When he gets up and leaves, what do you want him to know about Nature Safe?
RICK: That two minutes, that elevator pitch, is always a good barometer. I would always say this. That, for us, what we do that we feel is unique and differentiated is how concentrated our materials are and how available those materials are, or those organic inputs are. So, when we think of organics, most people think of them as waste streams. Most people think of them as low analysis, unpredictable in their release, smell awful, those kinds of challenges. And what we’re doing is taking it and saying, ‘We’re addressing that on every level.’ We’re super-concentrating these products. We have OMRI-listed organic inputs that are as high as 15% organic nitrogen. Those products are specifically engineered to provide a very complete, very consistent release and a controlled release in that 10 – 12 week period. So, when we think of, ‘What do you want them to know?’ I want them to think, number one, this isn’t a waste stream. It’s a product of value that is focused on concentration, ‘How concentrated can we make that material?’ And then, secondly, and just as important, ‘How available is that material?’ Because we could take our leather belt and grind it up, and it’s high in nitrogen, probably, or protein, but it wouldn’t be very available. Then the third issue component to that is, then, ‘So what? What does that mean? How does that matter to me as a grower?’ How can you help me take those highly-concentrated inputs and those very available inputs that are unrestricted, unused from an organic producer standpoint, and help me grow my business, addressing that in a meaningful and specific way? Depending on what they’re growing and how they’re growing, we’ll figure it out.
TOM: Well, again, thanks Rick. Rick Geise with Nature Safe, I appreciate your time. And to the listening audience, thanks for listening to another episode of Organics Unpacked. Be sure to tune in every week when we’ll unpack another facet of organic farming. Thank you for your time.
OUTRO: Thank you for listening to Organics Unpacked. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and giving this show a five-star rating and review, so we can continue to help organic growers improve their operations.