Company plans new fertilizer plant for Sask.

Northern Nutrients Ltd. is building a sulfur urea specialty fertilizer plant east of Saskatoon. The facility is expected to be producing product by the first quarter of 2022. It will initially be producing 28,000 tonnes of sulfur urea per year. The product will primarily be used by canola growers in Western Canada. | Northern Nutrients illustration

Sulfur urea specialty fertilizer plant is being built by a firm that until now had imported product from overseas

Northern Nutrients Ltd. is building the first non-potash fertilizer manufacturing plant in Saskatchewan since 1992.

The company intends to break ground on its sulfur urea specialty fertilizer plant later this month and be producing product by the first quarter of 2022.

That would be exactly three decades after SaskFerco Products started producing nitrogen fertilizer at its plant in Belle Plaine, Sask. The SaskFerco plant was purchased by Yara International in 2008.

Northern Nutrients has been importing sulfur urea from South Korea for the past three years.

“The freight is significant bringing it halfway around the world from Korea and the logistics can be difficult at times,” said company founder Ross Guenther.

Guenther and his partners Rob and Matt Owens from Emerge Ag Solutions in Eston, Sask., decided it was time to license a technology patented by Shell Canada and build a plant on the Prairies to service the western Canadian market.

The company acquired land in the East Floral Industrial Park just east of Saskatoon. The plant will initially be capable of producing 28,000 tonnes of sulfur urea fertilizer per year with the ability to eventually double that output.

Guenther said a 4,000-acre farm would use about 55 tonnes of sulfur a year. At full capacity the plant would provide about 15 to 20 percent of Western Canada’s sulfur fertilizer needs.

Jeff Schoenau, a professor of soil science at the University of Saskatchewan, is pleased to hear about the project.

“It’s great to have more manufacturing of fertilizer right here at home in the province,” he said.

The Shell technology micronizes elemental sulfur by sprinkling sulfur around a urea prill.

The result is a product with a smaller particle size than traditional elemental sulfur. It becomes plant available “significantly faster” than traditional products.

“It can be applied for that season of use, where that’s not the case for traditional elemental sulfur,” said Guenther.

It is also far less dusty that traditional sulfur products because the urea prill creates a firm granule that is not prone to breaking.

Schoenau said traditional elemental sulfur products have slow and unpredictable oxidization rates, particularly in prairie soils that are often cold and dry.

That is why traditional elemental sulfur products sometimes need to be supplemented with ammonium sulfate to meet short-term as well as long-term sulfur needs.

“To be able to have elemental sulfur products that oxidize more rapidly is desirable,” he said.

Sulfur is a key macronutrient that is important for the formation of plant proteins. Brassica crops like canola and mustard are big users of the nutrient, as are forage legumes such as alfalfa, said Schoenau.

Guenther said a good canola crop can remove 25 to 30 pounds per acre of the nutrient per year from the soil.

He thinks the timing couldn’t be better for the manufacturing plant because of all the new canola crush facilities being built in Saskatchewan.

Canola growers are going to have to push yields to supply all those plants and that may require boosting fertilizer rates.

He said the product has a low salt index compared to traditional ammonium sulfate products so if farmers want to push application rates it won’t dump too much salt on their land.

Northern Nutrients already has a distribution network in place after three years of importing the product from South Korea.

It has been supplying retailers like Federated Cooperatives Ltd., Parrish and Heimbecker, Precision Agricultural Services, Blair’s Family of Companies and Emerge Ag Solutions.

Northern Nutrients will stop importing the sulfur urea product from South Korea once its own plant is up and running.

But it intends to continue importing phosphate from China through the Port of Vancouver.

The company’s first shipment of phosphate was unloaded on April 8 and distributed to retailers in Western Canada.

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