Magic in Mushrooms…Finding Hidden Value

Here is my latest column from The Times, where I examine entrepreneurship in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario. While the column is about people and “place”, I believe many of the stories I write about can happen in most rural communities across the globe.

Joint Venture…Clean Technology Development Company…these were not terms being used to describe businesses when I started doing economic development here in 2001.

But they are today, it’s hard to escape the new economy even in rural areas like Prince Edward County. This is very exciting stuff, it’s great to see capital, innovation and technology being applied to an agricultural waste product and turning it into a value added organic fertilizer.

I recently spoke with Mohammad Rahbari, a London, Ontario based chemical engineer who already has a $32 million start up success under his belt commercializing a plastics recycling technology. That venture created 180 jobs in Sarnia. Now he is working on his next new technology project through his company Cennatek. It’s a joint venture between his company and Highline Farms called HB AGRi. They are focused on turning what we all refer to as mushroom compost, essentially a waste product into new products using clean technology.

The process is quite scientific and technical and I am going to spare our readers the details. A visit to their web-site will provide some good information Essentially what HB AGRi does is take the spent compost materials from the mushroom plant and turns it into two new value added products. The first is a liquid fertilizer that farms can use to spray on crop soils in order to improve yield and the other is a soil like product used by the home gardener to pot plants which helps with yields. They are testing a third product now and who knows maybe there are other products to be developed further down the road? Not bad for a waste product that was going to have no value.

Why here? Sometimes site selection is circumstantial. In this case a location close to the mushroom plant was necessary due to transportation logistics and costs. The old canning factory on Stanley Street in Bloomfield proved to be the closest suitable building and was available.

HB AGRi is currently in start up mode, having completed testing, they are lining up customers both locally and beyond. As they build demand and sales for their products, production will scale up. They have ambitious plans.

By 2017 they plan to use all the compost from the plant and be at full production. At which point in time there will be up to 25 jobs in production, production management and logistic in the 35,000 square feet of space that they rent.

HB AGRi already has a substantial order of liquid fertilizer from a customer in South West Ontario. Bob Hunter a large scale Prince Edward County farmer has run a successful trial on a 100 acre soybean plot. Mohammad is looking forward to more local agricultural leaders and innovators giving his product a try.

Why now? New technologies and shifting political and social forces are driving a broad array of sustainability oriented solutions. Recycling of all forms and limiting waste is good news and good business. In this case they are going to turn waste into sales, profits and jobs. This is good news for our community and HBAGRi sees local economic development as a positive outcome of their innovation and business model.

The government of Canada seems to agree. Funding for this project has been provided by Agriculture and Agri‐Food Canada through the AgriInnovation Program.” As well, this project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.

Tweet: Magic with #mushrooms ... clean tech firm turns #mushroom waste into #fertilizer




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