Pictured are (from left) Nate Dorr, NMF, Winona LaDuke, WELRP director, Daryl Frazier, WELRP CFO, and Bill May, Red Lake Nation Fisheries manager.

The White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP) was awarded a $20,000 grant by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation (NMF) to study the market and potential building needs for a fish-based fertilizer product.

The fertilizer would use fish waste produced at the Red Lake Fisheries facility in Redby.

Each year about 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of organic waste is created from the fisheries. Nitrogen and other nutrients from the decaying fish are, in fact, traditional fertilizers used by native peoples. The grant will help determine how this fish waste can be processed, assess the nutrient makeup of the product, what type of facility is needed and what type of market exists for the product.

“The hope is to get a plant fertilizer product ready for market in the next year or so,” said Winona LaDuke, project coordinator. “We have been hauling fish waste from Red Lake for our own use as we plant different varieties of heritage corn. With this funding, we can now test this on a larger scale.”

Red Lake Nation Fisheries and WELRP have met to discuss what existing equipment can be repurposed at the fishery. Containing the smell of the fish waste is a concern that will be addressed when determining possible facility design and location. The overall size of the facility will be determined by this feasibility study, but is not expected to require much space or high tech equipment.

“This project aligns with the value-added agriculture component of our Natural Resources Grant Program,” said Nate Dorr, NMF program officer for grants. “WELRP is a good steward of the land and connecting people to Native practices. There is great potential for partnership and support from other entities as well.”

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and Headwaters Regional Development Commission are contributing time and expertise to the feasibility study.             

The Northwest Minnesota Foundation is a public, charitable foundation serving 12 counties of Northwest Minnesota by investing resources, creating opportunities and promoting philanthropy.

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