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Company Part of National Fertilizer Trend E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Company Part of National Fertilizer Trend


Sun (Yuma, AZ);

By Darin Fenger

Mar. 5--There's profit in poo. Just ask a local organic fertilizer dealer like Dugan LaRose, a fellow who can testify that it all sure does stink, but it sure is the smell of success. LaRose owns Natural Ag, a Yuma company that's part of a national trend in agricultural fertilizers, where more and more folks are ditching the chemicals and going back to the original fertilizer -- liquefied poo. Thank goodness the Yuma native isn't just good at his business; he's got a good sense of humor about it all, too. "We don't even smell it any more. People come in here and say 'Oh my gosh,' but we can't even tell," LaRose said laughing. "When I come home my wife says 'Take your clothes off. You're not coming in here like that.' " That's because the products that Natural Ag deploys in local fields don't simply smell like your typical barnyard. It's actually worse than that. And that is because LaRose makes stuff grow, not with the traditional manure from cattle, but from the wee droppings of creepy-crawlies. "It comes from earthworm castings," he says, grinning.

The worms aren't in Yuma, though. They live and do their business in Tulary, Calif., where all the products used by LaRose are made. "It can be smelly," he said. "A grower joked that it can really clear up your sinuses." Making the unavoidable reek just a few notches worse are the other ingredients thrown into the yummy mix of nutrients. Some of the products also contain another smelly ingredient -- fish. "Then there is seaweed for hormonal development and several kinds of molasses to feed the microbes -- we've got some little guys living in there," LaRose said. All the fertilizers are stored pre-mixed in huge tanks. Three hold 6,000 gallons and four hold 5,000. Organic fertilizers are certainly nothing new, but they've never been quite this popular, either. "In the past 10 years, it's just really started rolling," he said. "I think it's because the consumer just wants something healthier." Natural Ag's products are used mostly to grow local cotton, wheat and dates. But even if organics are becoming more and more popular, LaRose says he can't even name a handful of other suppliers in business.

"We've seen a lot of people start up and be gone in the first year," he said, adding that many traditional, chemical-based fertilizer companies offer some organic options, too. Interestingly, growing food without chemicals isn't just a plus for consumers. LaRose says the grower benefits in many ways, too. First off, he said the product actually lasts longer once picked, not having all those man-made chemicals inside. Plus, he said that chemical fertilizers are often hard on the microorganisms living in the soil. Organics, meanwhile, actually feed those living things. "After 60 days, this one product will break down and form a carbon or sugar molecule and actually feed the microbes that are there in the fields," he said. He stressed that traditional fertilizers only focus short term, only looking at what a specific crop needs to survive. "With organics we're giving back to the soil," he said, adding that the whole organics movement is really a return to the trusted and traditional in some ways. "We're going back to our roots, before the chemicals. It's all about Mother Nature." He added that convincing local farmers to at least try organic alternatives hasn't been too difficult, either. "These guys in Yuma are pretty awesome. There's some really good farmers in Yuma County," LaRose said. "They're on top of it, getting more and more progressive now, and trying to stay on the cutting edge."

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