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Fertile power.

In the late 1980s those words would have sounded hollow. Today, they sound prophetic. When Knight discovered what the "pebbles" could do, sales of his fertilizer company were a mere $111,000 a year. After the addition of Power-pak to his range of products, the bottom line of PowerRich Corporation sprouted wildly, increasing 800 per cent in the past three years, a time when agriculture has been in the doldrums.

The "pebbles" are made up of 21 micro-nutrients which are food for the soil -- elements like boron, copper, phosphate and other foods which plants need to grow. What Power-pak does is simply replace all the plant food which years of intensive farming have used up. Knight says it's the natural thing to do.

"Soil gets depleted of micro-nutrients and it needs more," he says, "it's exactly the same as what people do with food."

A dozen years ago it is unlikely Knight would have believed that today he would be the owner of a fertilizer company. After all, the fertilizer field was, and still is, controlled by a small handful of huge multinational chemical companies and Knight was the owner of a small carpet store on McPhillips Avenue.

Knight is an early riser and was in the habit of arriving at his carpet store in time to have a morning coffee with another early bird, the owner of a small fertilizer company located in the same strip mall. Those morning chats led to a year-long partnership, following which Knight bought the company himself.

It was only a modest success, selling a seed treatment liquid and a spray applied to the leaves of growing crops. It wasn't enough to make the bottom line bulge. Something was missing.

Farmers generally help their crops grow in three ways: first a seed treatment, then fertilizer applied to the soil and finally the foliar spray. Without the middle part of the three-stage system, few farmers were willing to gamble their harvest on Knight's products.

The company sputtered along until the owner discovered the "pebbles." They were developed by two Americans Knight met in Nebraska. He knew right away that the micro-nutrients were the missing piece of his product-line puzzle. "This was the spark plug," he says. He snapped up the rights for $5,000.

The timing was good. Many farmers were becoming increasingly concerned about what several decades of adding chemical fertilizer was doing to their soil. They were putting more and more into the land every year, but yields were shrinking. The land was exhausted and starved and chemicals don't really feed the land. They are more like the sugar rush people get after eating a chocolate bar -- great for a short burst of energy, but not real nourishment.

And what were those chemicals doing when they washed into streams and lakes? According to Knight, Power-pak is an antidote to the chemicals. It is 92 per cent organic.

With a three-stage system, farmers were willing to take a chance with the PowerRich line. And the gamble is paying off in an unexpected manner. Not only are the products kind to the soil, they also boost yields. The Cypress River Hutterite Colony is using them on 7,000 acres. The harvest was up 9 per cent last year. A farmer in Winifred, Alberta, got an extra 10 per cent from his fields of rapeseed, which amounts to an additional profit of about $37 per acre.

By early 1989 Knight was ready to tackle the market held by the big chemical producers. He mortgaged his house with the CIBC in order to have enough working capital, but something went wrong. The same day the loan was approved, the bank foreclosed, without warning. It was a disaster for PowerRich. In the fertilizer business timing is critical. If a salesman does not get to the farmer in the spring, when he is deciding which products to use, it's too late. It was also too late for Knight to scramble for new financing. Sales dropped to $150,000. Knight sued the bank, which has been charged with fraud in the case, and laid plans for 1990-1.

With the support of a new bank, the company surged forward having the best year ever. The firm employs 16 people, one-third of them on a seasonal basis. Next to the company office on Logan Avenue there is a large manufacturing facility. This is where raw materials bought on four continents are mixed and packaged, becoming Power-root, Power-pak and Power-fol.

Much of the product is then shipped throughout western Canada by Golden West Trucking Ltd., owned by Gary Christianson, who is also vice-president of PowerRich. Christianson has played a big part in the company success which has been achieved with virtually no advertising.

In addition to owning the trucking company, Christianson is a farmer in Naicam, a small town 225 km north of Regina, and one of PowerRich's most prolific salesmen. Just after joining the firm he made a cold call to a farmer in the Arborg area and got a $74,000 order. "We're going up against some serious guns and we're running solely with results in the field," he says. "The first year it was raw, cold, hard selling, just foolscap and a pen."

Christianson joined the company in 1989. For years he had been scouring North America looking for an alternative to chemical fertilizers. "I knew there had to be a better way," he says frequently. After meeting Knight at an agricultural show in Regina, Christianson drove to Winnipeg and announced that he wanted in.

Together they are confident they can make a dent in the huge international fertilizer business. PowerRich products are currently being tested in a reforestation project in Chile. The company is also working on sales in Panama and Costa Rica. Sales are expected to top $3 million this year. "We see beautiful years ahead," says Knight.
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Title Annotation:Manitoba's No. 1 Fastest Growing Company; PowerRich Corporation, an agricultural fertilizer company
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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