Mixing manure and leftover grains generates a new statewide ag business, PrairieFood

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
PrairieFood opened a factory in Pratt in November 2021.

By mixing manure and leftover ethanol grains, a Kansas entrepreneur came up with an idea — building nutrient-dense food for soil.

This liquid "soil booster" helps enrich the soil. And, because it doesn't need water so it does not run off, it can remain in the soil until it rains. 

Robert Herrington, the co-founder of PrairieFood, said it took him several goes before he found the right product with the right consistency. For the past several years, the Lawrence-based start-up has fine-tuned its product. They built a factory in Pratt and started manufacturing and testing the product. 

Last week, PrairieFood decided to take a leap, on Nov. 15 they joined the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce and started marketing the company's soil amendment. 

"We're ready to take that next step," said Jeff Roskam, president and chief operating officer of PrairieFood. "We have enough science. Now we're ready to advertise."

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PrairieFood conducted research on land in Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. After the ribbon-cutting with the chamber, Herrington and Trisha Jackson, Ph.D., the company's director of regenerative agriculture, spoke at the Great Plains Regeneration Conference in Pratt.

How PrairieFood works

This mixture, which combines bovine manure and spent distiller's grain from ethanol plants, feeds soil bacteria and fungi. By breaking down cellulose, proteins and starches into small molecules, the soil is able to absorb the nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorous.

According to PrairieFood scientists, fertilizers bypass nutrient cycles and in so doing cause mineral deficiencies. Because bacteria and fungi are the smallest forms of life in the soil, they create a strong foundation. The diversity found in PrairieFood's blend of microbes adds diversity to the soil.

The blend builds soil carbons and supports the soil biology that recycles and releases nutrients. Unlike chemical fertilizers, this product works in conjunction with nature. It aligns with soil health principles of minimizing disturbance to the soil and increasing the biodiversity of the soil. 

Robert Herrington, the co-founder of PrairieFood, speaks on Nov. 15, 2021 at the Great Plains Regeration Conference in Pratt .

What they found

By using this rich soil amendment, farmers and ranchers say they are seeing a difference. Jimmy Emmons, a rancher in Dewey County, Oklahoma said "Wow," when asked about the product.

"It's working with the system instead of against it," Emmons said.

Chris Olmstead, who runs a farm operation in Pratt County, said he noticed a difference after using PrairieFood on his land.

"I tried PrairieFood and I decreased the rate of synthetic fertilizer," Olmstead said. "PrairieFood out-yielded it."

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Both producers used a test strip and data was collected.

By placing this product in the soil, as opposed to using chemical fertilizers, Jackson said, "we add no toxic chemicals in the waterways."

What's next?

Pratt is the first production plant for the company. Roskam said the PrairieFood would like to add two additional plants in Kansas, most likely another one in central Kansas and one in western Kansas. When running 24/7, the Pratt plant hopes to employ around 17 workers. Roskam said the other plants would employ around the same amount of people.

"The need for moisture retention and increasing soil organic matter (in Kansas) is great," he said. "(Using PrairieFood) farmers can reduce their operating costs and the cost of buying nitrogen and phosphorus."

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PrairieFoods likes to deliver within a 100-mile radius of its plant. Much of the ethanol product comes from Pratt Energy

"We've been grabbing the fruits (from the soil) for decades," Jackson said. "And our country is declining in its ability to deal with stresses and feed nutritious food to our population. So let's take a moment and start feeding the soil simply."