AgriSolve Tries for Paydirt with New Soil Amendment Technology

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greenhouses while also solving a waste problem for farms, Kessler says. Dairy biofiber production doesn’t have many of the costs associated with Sphagnum peat moss, which is harvested from drained bogs, processed, and transported to U.S. markets. Also Canadian peat sites must later be restored to wetlands, according to government regulations. Dairy biofiber could offer other advantages compared to peat moss. AgriSolve-sponsored research at Fresno State University and other academic institutions found that the manure-derived material contributed some nutrients to the soil, whereas peat moss added none, Kessler says. The research also found that the dairy biofiber readily absorbed water and retained it better than peat, and had a pH level closer to the sweet spot preferred by plants, he says.

In a greenhouse, the moisture-retention properties of dairy biofiber would mean that the grower would need to water less frequently, Kessler says. The soil amendment could save in other ways, as well. Watering less reduces the chances of washing away fertilizer before the plant has had an opportunity to take up the nutrients, he explains.

Kessler is well acquainted with the needs of indoor-grown plants. Before AgriSolve, he worked for Hoogendoorn, a Netherlands-based company that makes computerized systems that manage climate, water, and energy in greenhouses. He also spent time working in Deere & Company’s (NYSE: DE) agtech group. AgriSolve grew out of Kessler’s own research on dairy biofiber production. The company has received business mentoring from The Foundry at Purdue University, which is also advising the company on legal and patent matters.

A dairy farm of 1,500 cows can produce as much as 100 cubic yards of dairy biofiber per day using WasteSolver, Kessler says. The company plans to sell the material for $20 a cubic yard—roughly half the price of peat moss. Even at that price, Kessler says WasteSolver will be profitable. Despite its advantages, Kessler says AgriSolve’s dairy biofiber will supplement rather than replace peat moss. He envisions material produced with the company’s technology eventually sold to the same soil amendment companies that harvest peat moss. Dairy biofiber could also become an alternative source material for biodegradable plant containers, some of which are made with peat moss. Dairy biofiber product could then be distributed to retailers catering to home gardeners, Kessler says. But first, AgriSolve needs to demonstrate how its dairy biofiber production process workson a large dairy farm.

California is the nation’s largest state for dairy production. The California Department of Food and Agriculture counts more than 1,450 dairy farms; according to federal agriculture figures, California produces more than 20 percent of the country’s milk. For those reasons, AgriSolve is constructing a pilot site at a dairy farm in California’s Central Valley. The company is financing the project with $825,000 that it raised this spring. Kessler says the investors, who hail from all over the country, are people who “appreciate agriculture and like the idea of investing in something that’s green and sustainable.”

If the California pilot is successful, Kessler says AgriSolve might expand by building more WasteSolvers on more farms. That expansion could bring in dairy farms or horticulture businesses as investment partners. Kessler expects the pilot to launch in late summer, a good time in the soil amendment industry because that’s when horticulture operations start bringing in their growing media for the next year, he explains.

Crozier, the soils scientist, says AgriSolve is smart for seeking applications beyond farms. Fertilizer applied to field crops is the most common use for manure, but it’s also the product’s lowest monetary value.

“If [Agrisolve has] got a product stream that can be sold to landscaping, or golf courses, or the container industry, they can get a higher price,” he says.

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Frank Vinluan is an Xconomy editor based in Research Triangle Park. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @frankvinluan

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