Biomass-based fertilizers enhance growth

By Lisa Gibson
Posted January 28, 2010, at 10:01 a.m. CST

Fertilizers made mostly from pine tree biomass and produced by Washington-based EcoTrac Organics have been shown to enhance growth in conifers and pine trees, and can reduce water requirements of treated lawns and plants, according to the company.

Since its establishment in 2007, the company has sought to manufacture and market environmentally-friendly products and has come up with three so far, with some patents pending. The first, HyperGrow, is a pine tree-derived biomass fertilizer. It is composed of pine tree sawdust and wood ash from biomass cogeneration processes, according to Jim Lodwig, EcoTrac president. It enhances growth rate, specifically in conifers. HyperGrow is primarily used in applications where the plants require lower levels of nitrogen.

The second product is HyperGrow Plus, which is manufactured using various timber and agricultural waste residues, without adding any synthetic components, Lodwig said. The product is made from 100 percent natural, organic plant and crop waste and replaces some components used in HyperGrow with others that enhance nitrogen content in the fertilizer. HyperGrow Plus is low in phosphate so it's ideal for municipal use, as many municipalities have created ordinances requiring fertilizers used in golf courses and public parks to be low in phosphorous to reduce the possibility of contaminating the groundwater, according to Lodwig. The product also contains wood ash and sawdust, but does not exclusively contain pine tree or softwood sawdust, according to EcoTrac. Sawdust gives the fertilizer fiber to keep it from leeching through the soil post-application and bypassing the roots of crops and grasses before they can absorb the nutrients. The company obtains sawdust and lumber yard waste for its products from various local lumber mills.

HyperGrow and HyperGrow Plus share beneficial traits for trees, crops, gardens and lawns, such as enhanced growth, replenished fiber in the soil profile, and the increased benefits of that fiber, according to the company. HyperGrow Plus can be applied during the seeding process and is currently being tested by a number of farmers in Washington and Idaho.

EcoTrac's third product, Traction Plus, is a traction aid additive for winter highway maintenance sand and is also made from pine tree biomass. It blends with sand and immediately adheres to compact snow and ice, minimizing the scatter upon application and keeping sand in place longer under traffic conditions, according to Lodwig. Traction Plus also minimizes dust pollution from excessive sand use and fertilizes the areas surrounding the highways.

EcoTrac is working with Stimson Lumber, the Idaho Forest Group and the Colville Indian Precision Pine, among others in the Northwest Region of the U.S., to secure lumber processing waste for its products. Raw byproducts are blended and pelletized at West Oregon Wood Products, according to EcoTrac.

The market potential for EcoTrac's products seems to be substantial, including timber companies, landowners, homeowners, park managers or any entity that plants trees for consumption or beautification, according to the company. EcoTrac expects future markets will include retail consumer applications of its formulas.

The company will continue to research new formulas and different additives for various applications and will investigate new compatible resources for its current products, such as forest slash, according to Lodwig. EcoTrac is also conducting trials using HyperGrow Plus in conjunction with a seed starter called HyperPlantStart, which give seeds a healthier, stronger start to increase yield potential and reduce the need for chemical applications. The combination gives plants both a pre-emergence boost and a post-emergence growth advantage, according to the company.