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Boreal Agrominerals mines natural fertilizer for organic growers

May 28, 2014
by Walter Franczyk
In: News

The unrefined ore contains a unique blend of calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous as well as micronutrients, trace elements and rare earths essential for healthy soils.

Boreal Agrominerals sold 50,000 tonnes of Spanish River Carbonotite in 2013 from its Spanish River quarry, 60 kilometres northwest of Sudbury.

A new northern miner is feeding the soil of North America’s organic farms, gardens and flowerbeds. Boreal Agrominerals Inc. is digging Spanish River Carbonatite from its quarry 60 kilometres northwest of Sudbury and selling bulk quantities to organic farmers in Michigan, Ontario, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and Quebec.

A natural fertilizer, the unrefined ore contains a unique blend of calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous as well as micronutrients, trace elements and rare earths essential for healthy soils. An alternative to conventional chemical fertilizers, the fine rock particles improve soil structure and help grow more nutritious and bountiful crops.

“We work with the largest organic farmers east of the Mississippi,” said John Slack, Boreal’s chief executive officer. For more than a decade, carbonatite from the company quarry has been applied on more than 60,000 hectares of farmland.

Fruit, vegetable and cereal crop growers attest to its efficacy for improving soils and producing higher quality crops and better yields. “The customer base we have today has been buying our product for 13 years,” Slack said. “These are rather smart farmers and if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t be buying it.” Carbonatite deposits exist on every continent. They have a variety of industrial uses but are predominantly used in agriculture. Carbonatites normally have a propensity to contain minerals with uranium concentrations, but the Spanish River deposit is unique because it does not have those attributes, said Slack.

“It makes it ideal as a direct agricultural amendment for our markets, which are certified for organic food production.” Spanish River Carbonatite is tested and approved for use on certified organic crops and is a registered fertilizer in Canada.

John Slack, CEO, Boreal Agrominerals.

A graduate of the Haileybury School of Mines, Slack prospected for minerals in northern British Columbia and Yukon for more than 10 years.

When the junior mining industry collapsed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, he took over operation of the family farm, a 300-acre cow-calf operation in Erin Township, northwest of Toronto.

His father, Malcolm Slack, a renowned mining engineer and executive, had bought the farm and, with John in charge, they transitioned it to certified organic production. Since they couldn’t use conventional fertilizers, they focused their attention on carbonatite. Airborne geophysics performed by the Ontario Geological Survey originally found the 350-acre Spanish River deposit.

When evaluating the site, Malcolm Slack viewed it as a potential source of metallurgical calcium for the mining industry and as fertilizer for organic agriculture.

“He was truly a visionary,” said John. “The concept that we’re utilizing to this day is something that my father thought about for the better part of 25 years.”

Operating as Agricultural Mineral Prospectors Inc., the Slacks acquired the deposit in 1994 when organic agriculture was in its infancy, but growing very quickly. They licensed the quarry and found a market for their carbonatite without having to build an expensive calcine plant.

“We took the path of least resistance where we could finance this entirely ourselves and we started a family business, supplying this unique product to organic farmers.”

Boreal Agrominerals is a private company, formed by John Slack and partners in 2012. It secured a 25- year mining lease, quarry permit and the ongoing business from Agricultural Minerals Prospectors. Boreal employs a contractor to excavate carbonatite and truck it to a stockpile in Dowling, part of the Cityof Greater Sudbury.

When Boreal gets an order, the carbonatite is simply screened and trucked directly to the farm. Most growers buy it in 40-tonne truckloads for $55 a tonne, and apply as much as 500 kilograms or more per acre.

The company entered the consumer market last summer, selling 4.5 kilogram and 20 kg bags, branded as Volcanic Minerals Plus®, at more than 60 retailers and nurseries in Canada and the United States.

Because it didn’t get its bags out until late June, it missed the start of the gardening season and is still assessing and adjusting its marketing strategy.

It is currently developing a onekilogram bag to sell for less than $10, said Boreal president Paul Pitman, a geologist and resource consultant. Boreal outsources excavation, trucking and bagging of its product.

The company estimates the Spanish River deposit holds a historical ore reserve of 2.8 million tonnes to a depth of 7.5 metres. With 2013 sales pegged at 50,000 tonnes, it aims to eventually sell 147,000 tonnes annually, 10 per cent of all fertilizer for certified organic acreage in the United States. At that rate, it could have enough ore to last 20 years.

As part of its strategic plan, Boreal expects to confirm its ore reserve and build a plant in Sudbury. “We’re working with some fairly substantial distributors of organic rock dust products in the United States that are asking for specific mineral commodities. From this (Sudbury) facility, we’ll be able to concentrate calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium-bearing mineral species that fit into their proprietary fertilizers,” said Slack.

Although there are other carbonatite deposits mined for agricultural uses around the world, Slack does not view them as competition.

“The industry is growing exponentially,” he said. Certified organic production is the fastest growing sector of agriculture, expanding 10 to 15 per cent annually for the past 20 years, he noted.

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