Canadian company offers homegrown alternative to sulphates
Bioenterprise helps Sultech Global market its carbon-friendly product
By Lilian Schaer for Bioenterprise
Synthetic fertilizers are an essential part of modern food production, but they have limitations that are incompatible with the sustainability demands agriculture is facing. And as a global product, they’ve been hard hit with pandemic-induced supply chain challenges.
Calgary-based Sultech Global Innovation Corp. believes it has a solution in the form of a micronized elemental sulphur to replace conventional ammonium sulphates found in fertilizer programs. It’s their non-synthetic, made-in-Canada SulGro product that they say can address climate change issues without compromising crop performance.
“Our product can match the performance of synthetic fertilizer in ideal circumstances, but outperforms in adverse situations like flood and drought where synthetic gets washed into the water or causes germination tension,” says Conor Wrafter, Executive Vice President Corporate Development at Sultech. “Our product oxidizes over the whole growing cycle to become plant-available and improve plant health; it’s not a one-and-done solution.”
The company’s feedstock is elemental sulphur recovered from the oil and gas industry that is often sold at a loss to global customers as a bulk commodity. According to Wrafter, Sultech’s goal is two-fold: take a bio-product from a major Canadian industry and turn it into a value-added product that can help Canadian farmers while also offering an environmentally-friendly alternative that will help improve the sustainability of crop production.
Sultech’s SulGro products are marketed for both end-use and as raw material inputs.
According to Executive Vice President Commercialization Murray MacKinnon, six years of agronomy research and one year of soil amendment research, including on-farm plot trials, have proven the product’s benefit compared to ammonium sulphate.
Because it can be applied any time and using standard equipment, SulGro offers growers greater flexibility in timing, he says. And although the product was always price-competitive, recent price jumps and tight supply for conventional fertilizers have made SulGro more attractive.
“We had a $1,500 per section price advantage in the past, but now that’s at $6,500 or more, so when your savings can cover field prep and fuel costs for farmers, you get their attention,” MacKinnon says. “We are also seeing a huge shortage of liquid sulphur components for canola, lentils and peas, so this is a new market for us that is helping to alleviate that global shortage.”
Thanks to support from Alberta Innovates and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) of the National Research Council of Canada, Sultech addressed early technical challenges in its product development process.
Earlier this year, after being deemed too advanced to participate in the Alberta Yield accelerator program, the company entered into an Alberta Yield Coach Service agreement with TEC Edmonton, which connected them to Michael McGee, Director of Innovation with Bioenterprise, Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, as their new mentor.
McGee and the Bioenterprise team were instrumental in helping Wrafter and MacKinnon determine how to pitch their company and refine their messaging before connecting them with various innovation-focused opportunities. That included an introduction to Connection Silicon Valley, and participating in the 2021 Ag Innovation Showcase Canada hosted by Bioenterprise and FCC.
“We were too far down into the weeds throwing data points at people – we were positioning ourselves as an alternative vitamin when we needed to be a painkiller,” Wrafter says.
“Without Bioenterprise’s validation over the last year, I would’ve been close to throwing in the towel,” he adds. “When you’re trying to bring a disruptive technology to the market, that’s a whole different challenge than just being an entrepreneur and it would’ve been hard to keep going without them.”
In three years, Sultech hopes to be producing a minimum of 45,000 tons of micronized sulphur in western Canada with an established development pipeline for domestic and international expansion.
“This is a global problem, and our product can work on any crop that needs sulphur so anywhere there is agriculture is an opportunity for us,” says MacKinnon.
As Canada’s Food & Agri-Tech Engine, Bioenterprise brings more than 15 years of industry experience and a national and international network of research institutions, academia, mentors and experts, funders and investors, government, and industry partners to help small and medium-sized businesses in the agri-food sector nationwide connect, innovate, and grow.