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Organic fertilizer plant sets up in Willow Creek

LAWRENCE GLEASON, GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR

From left: MD of Willow Creek public works superintendent Roy Johnson, chief executive officer Cindy Vizzutti, Coun. Darry Markle, Candeo vice-president Bob Iverach, Candeo director Lindsay Young, planning and development manager Cindy Chisholm, Charlie Mayer, also a director, Candeo president Bill Hogan, Candeo director Barry Brad, Coun. Glen Alm, Reeve Maryanne Sandberg, Coun. John Kroetsch, Coun. John Van Driesten, and Coun. Evan Berger.

Hangar 6 at the Claresholm Industrial Airport is now home to Candeo, a company whose board of directors includes Charlie Mayer, former minister of agriculture of Canada in the government of Brian Mulroney, during the 1980s.
The company could be up and running by the end of this year, producing an organic fertilizer in Hangar 6 that could employ 20 local people when the plant reaches full capacity with two shifts.
The product has shown promise in trials in California.
On July 17 Candeo executives explained the product to MD of Willow Creek councillors in their capacity as the municipal service board.
The business is mixing older plant material — hay that’s not good for feed, grass cuttings, outdated produce items from grocery stores — and mixing it with crushed rock and a super-porous California volcanic rock crush.
In trials that mix has outperformed non-organic fertilizers. The porous lava rock also holds moisture and the included biomass- which can be mixed into various blends and adds richness to the soil.
This may sound familiar to those who attended a May 2017 weekend soil science weekend workshop with New Zealander Nicole Masters, a soil scientist who talked to producers about the importance of enriching the soil to not only hold moisture better, but provide a healthy environment to the organisms that live in the soil.
Masters, the daughter of a fruit orchard owner who also raised bulls, graduated from Otago University with a degree in ecology and after studying soil science, then found her knowledge in demand world-wide, including here among producers in the MD of Willow Creek.
Charlie Mayer arrived with four other senior executives with the company. Two of those were William Hogan, Candeo’s president and chief executive officer, and executive vice-president Robert Iverach, a Calgary lawyer specializing in tax law.
So it was not an ordinary group that came to the MD of Willow Creek to ask for a development permit for a new business.
The group believes they are getting a good deal coming to Claresholm.
“When I saw the floor of Hangar 6 I knew pouring that cement floor now would cost $1-million,” Hogan said. ‘That is floor is 44,000 square feet. That’s an acre.”
Charlie Mayer, a Saskatchewan producer before his service in the federal cabinet as agriculture minister and a Manitoba farmer afterward, explained it is not only the porous lava rock in the Candeo blend it is also getting the particles small to hold moisture better.
“The smaller the particles the more water adheres,” Mayer said. “For example, sand has larger particle. Water doesn’t adhere to sand that well.”
In California trials the blends with the lava rock and biomass added to water-hungry produce like strawberries outperformed crops using synthetic fertilizers, which investor William Hogan, when he first heard of this, couldn’t believe it.
When he was satisfied with the results he made sure he had the rights to Canada.
Once that was secured he looked for a location for a manufacturing plant. Claresholm was chosen.
One of the conditions of the business is that the plant material used will be stored inside, after concerns were raised by Murray Frame of Frame Aviation, who was concerned about flies and birds being attracted around the airport.
Claresholm will be Candeo’s first plant, but Hogan more are planned for Alberta. Then the company plans to build more across Canada.
The Claresholm Industrial Park was chosen as Candeo’s first manufacturing site not just as Hangar 6 has one acre of concrete floor, but there is plenty of biomass available throughout the MD of Willow Creek to become part of the organic blend that makes the final product.

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