Dung from 10,000 egg-laying hens used to be a costly problem until an innovative chicken rancher began to bag it and sell it to eager gardeners. Arne Braut Jr has made money the last 20 years by making lawns greener in nearby Stavanger and Sandnes.
“You have to add what the grass needs, much as the farmer treats his fields,” Braut told newspaper Nationen recently. “Townies have a lot to learn from us.”
Spring is the busiest season for his business, as homeowners prepare their gardens for the summer. It’s also when Norway’s agricultural lobby is making demands on the government for the taxpayer-funded subsidies they insist they need to make ends meet.
Ingenuity instead of subsidy
While many farms in Norway survive only because of subsidies, amounting to as much as 70 percent of the farmer’s income, Braut is among those who has turned problems into profits. From small-scale beginnings in the early 1990s, Braut has taken a major share of the market.
By the end of the decade he was selling 60,000 bags a year. Unlike many of his competitors, Braut decided not to try to break into the professional-user market since that would require heating the dung to make pellets suitable for spreading by machine.
“Many of the natural organisms and bacteria in the dung would have disappeared,” says Braut.
According to Braut, garden centers and chain stores increasingly have their own brands. Today he sells about 20,000 bags of lawn fertilizer from Bergen to Kristiansand. Despite being down to only a third of the maximum sales volume, he still manages to solve his own and several other local farmers’ dung problem.
“We use next to nothing on advertising and instead rely on satisfied customers and recommendations from users,” Braut told Nationen.
One reason for the cutback in volume is that Braut has diversified. One of his products removes odor from outhouses and camping toilets. Another takes moss and mildew from the roof. Braut and his colleagues are testing a product which digests oil spills by biological means.
Development costs and major investments have resulted in a Finnish investor becoming the main shareholder in his companies. Nevertheless Braut has ensured that his lawn fertilizer will still be produced in southwestern Norway.
“I don’t want to take any chances with my grass fertilizer,” says self-styled “dung-boss” Braut to Nationen.