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Extension aids expansion of organic fertilizer market
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When the owners of an organic fertilizer company in Lawrence County were trying to determine best uses for their product and develop new markets, they turned for help to a team of specialists with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Amanda Walker is the Extension director in Lawrence County. She spearheaded the efforts on behalf of Organic Growing Systems, a relatively new and growing company that produces organic fertilizer from poultry litter.
“Their mill manager was from Ohio and did not have much knowledge about the community,” Walker said. “The company was doing well financially, but they didn't have a big budget for research and development. They turned to the Extension Service for help primarily with the development of data that would help them market their product to forage producers.”
Walker put together an Extension team of soil, forage, horticulture, truck crops, turf and poultry specialists. The group met with company representatives to determine how the Extension Service could meet some of their needs. Trial plots were planted to see how the fertilizer performed with different crops and in different conditions.
“The company is successfully figuring out what markets it can enter with its product. We connected them to the local chamber of commerce and community resource development officer,” Walker said. “We also put management in contact with needed services in the area and helped as the company filled positions at the plant.”
Larry Oldham, an Extension soil specialist, was one of the team members.
“This has been a great example of an Extension county director working with a local economic development interest to bring in university assets to help develop an expertise pool to aid that industry,” Oldham said. “I think Amanda has done a textbook job of working with the client and bringing in the resources of Mississippi State.”
Oldham said Organic Growing Systems' fertilizer is made with litter from the state's poultry industry.
“The nutrients in it are the same as in synthetic fertilizer, but the nitrogen in the material has to be converted into simpler forms that are available to plants,” he said.
Oldham said the nitrogen in Organic Growing Systems' fertilizer is contained as amino acids and other complex molecules. These substances must be broken down by microbes in the soil into a form plants can use.
“The nitrogen in this fertilizer is not immediately available, but it is in effect a slow-release fertilizer,” Oldham said. “This form is preferred by many operators in the turf market, one of the markets this company is trying to serve.”
Oldham said nutrients are immediately available in synthetic fertilizers but may take one to three weeks to become available in this organic fertilizer.
Robin Borden, chief agronomist and director of technical services for Organic Growing Systems in Monticello, said the slow-release nature of the product is one of its biggest advantages.
“Poultry litter that is applied to farmland is considered somewhat of a negative because of run-off issues that result in algae blooms and bacteria in nearby water supplies,” Borden said. “We add certain things to the litter that reduce odor and enhance performance, heat-treat it to kill pathogens, and convert it to pellets or granules.”
Borden said the product has very little odor when dry, and it is odor-free once wet. It provides a good growth pattern for three to four months. Other organic fertilizers are on the market, but Borden said his company's product is available at a price the competition can't touch.
“We keep it simple and we have a proven formula that works,” Borden said. “Triple 13 fertilizer usually sells for $19 to $20 a bag. The public can buy ours for $12 to $15 a bag.”
Organic Growing Systems' fertilizer is sold under the brand name Top Organic 4-2-2 and can be found at many local co-ops, home and garden centers, and home improvement centers in the Southeast.
“We're blessed with a perfect product, being organic and environmentally friendly, and it is available at the perfect time,” he said. “Our customers love it because it works and it provides an alternative to a more expensive product.”