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Opportunities – Farm, garden and landscape products

It’s only natural that the fruits of the soil make the best materials for repairing and protecting the soil. Mulches, erosion control mats, fertilizers, and other landscaping products that incorporate ag materials such as corn stover, straw and wild rice hulls are growing in popularity with those who want to improve the environment.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in this area,” says Alan Doering, technical services specialist at AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca. “Ag residues have good makeup for (fertilizers and mulches), plus they’re abundant and economical. In most cases they have natural advantages.”

Doering says AURI has worked on a number of landscape-oriented projects and more are expected. In fact, he expects it to be a growth area because of its potential for adding value to currently low-valued products. “We are always looking to expand the use of coproducts.”

Ag byproducts have natural advantages over more processed organic materials like paper. Ag products degrade more easily, release nitrogen more slowly and can usually be found in large quantities near the proposed application sites

Some of the potential landscape uses for coproducts include hydroseeding, soil amendments, erosion control mats and seed carriers. In hydroseeding, a fiber is mixed with water, seed and a tackifier to form a slurry. The soupy mixture is blown over expanses of open ground near road or other construction sites. Once the liquid dries, the fiber forms a blanket to control erosion, hold in moisture and give the seed a welcome environment in which to grow.

Erosion-control mats serve largely the same purpose; some are impregnated with grass or other seed for even sowing. Mulches and soil amendments improve soil by adding organic material for better moisture retention and nutrients.

Highway construction and repair projects represent significant uses for erosion-control products. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has set standards for erosion-control products, such as water-holding and binding ability and more. Ag-based products often meet those requirements.

Because most useful ag materials are light and bulky, they can’t be transported long distances economically. That is why there is growing emphasis on the emerging market for local fibers. With large supplies of economical raw materials, the potential exists for local businesses to emerge.

“Right now a lot of what is being used is being brought in from other states,” Doering admits. “Our focus is to get these landscape products made in Minnesota because they’re being used here.” n

By Dan Lemke

Photos by Rolf Hagberg

Bloomington, Minn. — AllDown Green Chemistry Herbicide, an all-natural weed control product developed by Summerset Products, is ahead of its class.

AllDown is the first and only herbicide to be listed on the approved products list by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). That approval, obtained in May 2002, makes AllDown a viable option for organic growers, for whom weed control is a constant battle.

“The OMRI listing was very important to us,” says Summerset Vice President Bruce Marrs. “Without it, we would have had to get approval from a number of smaller organizations for it to be available to organic farmers. Once OMRI gives it their blessing, the others accept it, too.”

AllDown is a nonselective weed and grass herbicide made from natural ingredients including acetic and citric acids, garlic and yucca extracts.

“It’s a broad use herbicide — it works on broadleaf weeds, thistles, dandelions, velvetleaf and more,” Marrs says. “It also works on a number of grasses like quack. It kills most of the weeds, others it browns and retards their growth for a period of time and allows a crop canopy to cover them.”

Suck ’em dry

AllDown works as a desiccant, meaning plant leaves are burned by dehydration. Research from Iowa State University shows AllDown has quick knockdown and is effective on killing whatever plant it contacts.

The formula for AllDown took more than seven years to develop, as company founder and president Paul Marrs worked with a plant scientist to reach the right mixture. The first products “ate holes through the leaves but didn’t kill the plant.” Encouraged by early results, Marrs continued to do research. He finally came up with a winning combination.

Unlike its well-known synthetic counterpart, Roundup, it takes more than a few drops for AllDown to successfully kill weeds. Paul Marrs says it takes a fairly heavy coating with a spot sprayer for the herbicide to work. It is also more effective on smaller plants.

Currently, AllDown is being marketed predominantly to the Midwest farm industry. However, Summerset Products is designing a consumer retail package for the lawn and garden market. Summerset also markets organic-based, phosphate-free fertilizers, developed with AURI’s assistance.