“We might be the biggest fertilizer company in the world that no one knows about,” laughs Mandy Huska, vice-president of Yara Canada in Regina.
It is strange because Yara, a Norwegian-based crop nutrition company, has been a presence in Canada for more than 20 years. It owns and operates a nitrogen manufacturing plant in Belle Plaine, Sask. — one of the newest facilities in North America and one of the largest single-line granulation facilities on the continent.
Yara Canada also owns and operates a huge dry fertilizer import terminal facility in Contrecoeur, Que., and as Huska explains, the Belle Plaine facility accounts for roughly one-third of Western Canada’s nitrogen production. “Production of urea, UAN and anhydrous ammonia stays within the Prairies and the northern U.S. region,” she says. Plus, Yara is celebrating its 75th anniversary in North America this year.
That’s pretty impressive for a company whose name still, after all these years, comes as a surprise to some. And Huska, for one, says that Yara’s commitment to Canadian farmers doesn’t begin and end with impressive facilities. “We want to be thought of as a crop nutrition company, rather than a fertilizer company,” she says. “This is the reason we have invested in hiring sales agronomists and a crop manager in the past several years. We’re sharing our global and local knowledge of crop nutrition with our retail partners and their farmers through farmer meetings, trials, our YouTube channel and now our research farm in Saskatoon.”
Yara came to Western Canada through the purchase of Saskferco’s Belle Plaine production facility in 2008. It was, Huska points out, right about the time that canola acreage was taking off, driven by major investments in new processing plants and seed R&D facilities.
“As canola acres expanded in Saskatchewan, we were able to keep nitrogen production here,” she says. “It’s really about the distance to market — the further a product has to travel, the more it degrades, so we produce a very high-quality product, we produce 24/7 and it’s available 24/7.”
While macronutrients are Yara’s foundation, the company has put a lot of effort into developing micronutrient technology that is uncomplicated and effective in boosting crop yields.
“A fraction of acres in Western Canada are treated with micronutrients,” Huska says. She thinks part of that is down to the science of micronutrients not being well communicated or understood — how in the early days of micros, words like “snake oil” were bandied about.
“My goal is to make that term go away,” Huska says. “We want to add validity to this space, which is why everything we make is CFIA approved. We’re not trying to make a quick buck, we’re here for the long run, and we’re really working hard to help producers get more from their crop nutrition program.”
She points to YaraVita® PROCOTE™ as an example of this commitment. “It’s an oil-based micronutrient coating that’s applied to dry fertilizer product for a complete nutrient blend,” she says.
Essentially, with PROCOTE, micronutrients are applied to granular fertilizer in just about any combination a grower could want — from single micronutrient products (boron, copper, manganese, zinc) or a blend of all four — depending on specific crop requirements.
“We basically use the granular fertilizer to deliver a complete micronutrient package,” Huska says. “It really improves the overall quality of the fertilizer farmers are using already — it’s a game-changer for farmers when it comes to using micronutrients.”
“The global interest around sustainability and climate change is likely going to affect the way we grow food going forward,” says Huska. “Yara is committed to ensuring that farmers can continue growing enough food to feed the world in a responsible manner. We are already doing good things in Western Canada with 4R nutrition stewardship, but could also explore tools and products that promote improved nutrient use efficiency.”
The focus on sustainability does not mean farmers are expected to use less fertilizer, but rather that they use it more efficiently. Huska says products like YaraVara® AMIDAS®, which is a homogenous form of nitrogen and sulphur, does just that. “By providing more uniform access to the nutrients, we increase the use efficiency.”
But the company is also looking toward future innovations in nitrogen manufacturing, such as a move to “green ammonia,” which is produced through a zero-carbon process using hydrogen. “We are a champion of green ammonia and a hydrogen economy and support the conversion of some plants,” Huska says, adding that the company is willing to partner with others to make it happen.
“We want to help farmers to continue to grow the food people need in the most sustainable way possible,” she says.
What would a farmer do?
The 80-acre Yara Incubator Farm in Saskatoon is a collaborative research space where Huska says ideas go to be tested in real-life conditions.
“The Incubator Farm lets us bring together retailers and farmers to demonstrate crop nutrition strategies,” she says. “I want things to come out of there that maybe farmers think about trying but don’t have the time try or willingness to experiment on their own farm — like, can we test differences in fertilizer quality on this farm? I think we could.”
The farm, operated in partnership with GFM’s Discovery Farm, runs a three-year rotation of wheat or barley, canola and peas. “We can take what we see in small plots and put it into a real field-scale setting,” Huska says.
“Our goal is to mimic what a farmer would do, and demonstrate simple changes and practices that will help them get to a better result. It fills a knowledge gap. We want to be able to demonstrate nutrition for the future — that’s our job.”
The next 75 years
Yara celebrates 75 years in North America this year — it’s a significant milestone and Huska is proud of the Canadian part of that story.
“From a western Canadian standpoint, we’ve contributed a lot to the economy in Saskatchewan,” she says. “And we’ve contributed to communities across the West, supporting organizations like STARS, food banks and community centres.
“We have a great team of people to help you, with four sales agronomists on the ground in Western Canada, a crop manager and three regional sales managers,” she says. “Whether you need a micronutrient, macronutrient or just help figuring out how to get more yield, we can help.”