By Lawrence Powell
A Lawrencetown project to turn grass into heat-producing pellets and briquettes took a major leap forward Thursday when the federal and provincial governments chipped in almost $1.3 million to West Nova Agro Commodities Ltd.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told a large crowd at the Elliott Road site that Ottawa was supporting the project to the tune of $762,210.
“This is a great example of a new farm-to-consumer business opportunity that could be adapted to other rural communities in the region,” Ritz said. “It’s one thing to have a great business idea, it’s another to make it a reality.”
Provincial Agriculture Minister John MacDonnell praised West Nova Agro as being community minded and innovative: “always looking for ways to help farmers in the Annapolis Valley to be successful.”
“They’ve been trying different things and refining their plans for this grass pellet project for several years, knowing that they can help a lot of farmers through this venture,” MacDonnell said.
The province is providing $508,140 for the project.
West Nova Agro board of directors chairman Russell Ward, a local farmer, said the grass pellet initiative and the accomplishment of moving forward is another complimentary activity to the centre’s already established grain and hay handling facility, and attests to the commitment of all parties involved.
“The innovation, adaptability, and sustainability of using resources complimentary to the community is a true testament of a living, working model of what people can do by working together,” Ward said.
“Hay will be sourced from local farmers, processed into grass pellets and briquettes at the new plant and then delivered to industrial, residential, and retail consumers,” Ritz said. “Grass pellets are an alternative heating source that are growing in popularity with consumers.”
“They’re bringing a truly green product to the marketplace which can help reduce their customer’s dependence on oil,” MacDonnell said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”
West Nova Agro is a community-owned and operated grain elevator in Lawrencetown with a mandate to support the agricultural sector and help develop new opportunities.
“This initiative has the ability to create new markets for many small and medium-sized farms while providing an affordable heating fuel to consumers without the volatility associated with petroleum-based fuels,” said Jonathan McClelland, West Nova Agro manager.
“This is a great example of a new farm-to-consumer business opportunity that could be adapted to other rural communities in the region.” - Gerry Ritz
West Nova Agro has been researching alternative energy because renewable energy production appears to be on of the best ways of returning Nova Scotia’s small and medium-sized farms to profitability.
McClelland said the pellet plant should be up and working in the next few months.
A number of local farmers and landowners attended the funding announcement, and talked about the potential of the pellet plant, not just for its ability to produce a green product, but for its ability to return some of the thousands of acres of unused Annapolis County farm land to production.
West Nova MP Greg Kerr, who introduced Ritz, said growth in Nova Scotia agriculture is rising and described the grass pellet project as exciting and forward thinking.
After the announcement, Ritz toured the nearby grounds at the Annapolis Valley Exhibition in Lawrencetown, specifically the new horse barn in which the federal government made another substantial investment.