By Marlee Moore
Alabama-based Pursell Agri-Tech’s innovative controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) has received a highly sought U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development grant to increase American-made fertilizer production.
Pursell, headquartered in Sylacauga, was granted a $4.9 million match from the Fertilizer Production Expansion Program to help increase its production volume by 40,000 tons annually.
“We already had the infrastructure in place and had enhanced our efficiency in the last couple of years,” said Pursell Chief Financial Officer Joe Brady. “As we use these funds, we’re going to build product availability for farmers.”
By minimizing losses of valuable nutrients, Pursell’s uniformly coated CRF greatly extends the nutrient benefit of each ton of fertilizer, said Brady, saving farmers money and trips across the field.
Pursell has a 100-year-old history and cut its teeth on cutting-edge fertilizer for lawns and golf courses before breaking into CRF for row crop production. In addition to its Sylacauga plant founded five years ago, Pursell opened a Savannah, Georgia, location in January. An Ontario, Canada, plant will open in May. Additional expansions are planned to pinpoint geographic needs and reduce freight costs.
Part of Pursell’s innovation is rooted in its simple, state-of-the-art modular facilities. Pursell’s CRF is made in five-minute batches, which accelerates production. It increases nutrient and product customization, too, since mixers can be easily cleaned between batches to allow for different fertilizers, colors or release rates. Plus, the facilities’ more compact size reduces capital, allowing further expansions near farmers.
The three plants’ total production is around 250,000 tons, said Pursell Chief Operating Officer Allen Sanders, who helped develop the company’s next-generation product.
Raw fertilizer moves from storage bays to the mixing room, where it’s screened by size to ensure consistency.
It’s then fed into a high-speed, low-heat mixing drum. The patented mixing process applies a precise coating specific to a customer’s needs. The coating transforms raw fertilizers into colorful CRF that resembles tiny pieces of Nerds candy.
“Since we’re running in smaller batches, we’re able to have a more consistent, uniform coating,” Sanders said. “We’re basically selling the fact that each granule is going to release nutrients over time and in sync with your agronomist’s recommendations.”
That technology, and Pursell’s family culture, elevates the company and its product, said Director of Operations Joe Rodriguez.
“The technique we use to coat fertilizer saves customers money and time, and for us, it’s more efficient,” said Rodriguez, who’s worked with Pursell for over 20 years. “We can make 22 tons of row crop controlled-release fertilizer an hour and go from one substrate to another quickly because we’re small batch. We’re incredibly automated, and our technology and product’s functionality set us apart.”
How It Works
Pursell’s CRF can slowly release fertilizer from 30 days to nearly a year, depending on the product. Its pliable coating shrink-wraps to various raw material shapes, which preserves the product’s integrity.
“We can actually give the farmer the product he needs for the life cycle of his crop,” Sanders said. “If we spread our fertilizer today and it rains 2 or 3 inches, it won’t wash away. You may lose a little nitrogen, but you don’t have to spread again.”
The coated fertilizer also accounts for a farm’s geographical differences, like the change in humidity from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee Valley. And since its release is based on temperature and moisture, nutrient release slows at night, which reduces leaching and volatilization, said interim CEO Jody Saiia.
“Our product is a delivery system,” Saiia said. “The farmer can do what he thinks is best for his crop. We’re allowing him to do that in one pass with one blend of fertilizers. The technology is elegantly simplistic.”
CFO Brady said educating Southeastern farmers on the product’s groundbreaking performance is a priority. Field trials are underway on Alabama farms, at universities and through Extension.
“We’re feeding the plant consistently so it’s more disease resistant and healthier overall,” he said. “And that gives you greater yields.”
Over 350 businesses from 47 states and two territories applied for the USDA grant program. Pursell was among eight awardees U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced at Commodity Classic in Orlando March 10.
The announcement came at a pivotal time for U.S. agriculture, said the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Mitt Walker, as conflicts in eastern Europe and restrictions from China hamper historic sources of fertilizer.
“It’s important our farmers have easy, fair, consistent access to the products they need to grow a crop,” said Walker, the Federation’s Governmental and Agricultural Programs Department director. “It’s exciting, too, to see an Alabama company like Pursell Agri-Tech step up to the plate and meet that demand.”
Learn more at fertilizer.com.