To develop some of the world’s leading agriculture products, Nutrien Ag Solutions recently added a new greenhouse in Biola, CA, close to its R&D department in Kerman, just outside of Fresno. Nutrien Ltd. Is the world’s largest fertilizer company providing full-acre solutions through a network of trusted crop consultants at more than 1,700 global locations.
The company helps growers to achieve the highest yields with the most sustainable solutions possible, offering a wide selection of products, including their proprietary brands, such as Loveland Products, Inc.®, Proven® Seed and Dyna-Gro® Seed. The Nutrien brand was established in 2018 after Nutrien was formed through the merger of PotashCorp and Agrium.
Director of Research and Development John Breen at Nutrien played an integral role in the acquisition of its new Agra Tech greenhouse. John earned a Ph.D in Ecology from UC Davis and spent several years in Japan working in a global crop protection company. He has been with Nutrien for the past seven years and oversees its R&D efforts for crop protection, nutritionals and adjuvants globally. “Our focus is on products that enhance sustainability for growers around the globe,” says Breen. “Nutrient use efficiency, reduction of greenhouse gases, enhanced soil health and soil function are among the types of products we are developing.”
The company already had an Agra Tech greenhouse in full operation when Breen was hired at Nutrien, so he was already familiar with the name. He described the importance of greenhouses in their R&D efforts. “Whenever we develop a product, we first test it in a laboratory, and then if it’s promising we will take it to the greenhouse. If it still looks promising after that stage, we will subsequently take it to the field for more research. Having greenhouses is critical to our ability to develop products, and that’s why we rely on them to do our job.”
This doesn’t happen overnight, Breen said. “From the initial idea to the laboratory and on to the greenhouse can take approximately 2-3 years. In most cases, the field research is the most time-consuming, which usually also takes 2-3 years. So, it’s roughly a 4–6-year process overall. Our goal is to develop multiple products and release 2-3 new ones every year.
Every experiment that Breen and his team perform in the greenhouse is designed specifically for the goals of that particular product. “For example, if it’s a nitrogen product, we will test our product versus standard nitrogen fertility and then with our enhanced product,” he said. “We compare the two treatments, and use statistics to determine whether it’s better or not. We conduct research in corn, peppers, tomatoes, cotton, soybeans; those are the main ones we use. Sometimes we will measure other plant growth parameters as well, for example plant nutrient content in the leaves, or root proliferation.”
The company recently added two Agra Tech Solar Light greenhouses, in order to keep the plants in two different environments—one of which to create a cool season and one warm season year-round.
Keeping the insects out was a huge deliverable for its new greenhouse, he said, and Agra Tech knew how to achieve it. “It starts with the air intake on the fans that are enclosed in a screened-in enclosure so that no insects can enter the greenhouse even when the fans are on,” he said. “On the other side of the structure, the outlet fans are enclosed in a screened-in box. In addition, at the entrance of the greenhouse, there’s a vestibule which is pressurized to blow out, so that when you open the double door on the outside, the air blows out, which minimizes the number of insects that can fly in while the door is open.”
Working with Agra Tech’s Sales Engineer Jim Bergantz throughout the entire planning process was also a major plus, Breen said. “He was so professional and knowledgeable, he was great. Jim knows the industry and his company’s products very well, and communicated well with us during every stage to make sure that we got exactly what we wanted for our application.”
Ag-Con Construction, Inc of San Jose, CA constructed the new greenhouses for Nutrien Ag Solutions seamlessly and without drama, Breen explained. “They were meticulous, safe, and clean in everything they did for us,” he said. “We are extremely happy with Ag-Con. Ray Pound’s crew knew exactly what to do, and that’s why this state-of-the-art structure looks great.”
Prior to its rebranding in 2018, the company now known as Nutrien Ag Solutions was called Crop Production Services. Crop Production Services was officially born in 1983 and was acquired by Agrium 12 years later. Over time it had grown so much that when it merged with three other Agrium-owned companies in 2009, the newly formed company retained the Crop Production Services name.
The four companies that merged to form the “new” Crop Production Services each brought their own unique histories and capabilities to the table. They include Western Farm Service, that features a turf and ornamental product line as well as a wholesale distribution network and a 1,500-unit-strong weather station network. Royster Clark a leading supplier of fertilizers, seed and crop-protection products, and United Agri Products was an independent distributor of agricultural inputs and non-crop products with 370 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
These four companies blended together to form the unified company that became Nutrien Ag Solutions, the largest agricultural crop-input business in North America.
Controlled Environment Greenhouse
It has worked out well for all of us and it’s a great relationship. Of the 274 greenhouses we have, all but 19 of them are from Agra Tech. Jim Bergantz, our rep from Agra Tech sells them to us; John Pound advises us: Anita Pound helps to engineer the structures and Ray Pound’s company Ag-Con in San Jose, CA does all of the construction. The people at Agra Tech are easy to work with and every time we’ve gone to them with requests, design modifications and things like that—they’re always willing to make it happen for us.