Mark Myrowich describes his product as a big sandwich, with nets instead of bread and straw instead of meat, rolled up like a carpet and delivered to construction sites for erosion control.
This strange-sounding item is one of many the Manitoba government plans to support with $20 million over the next 10 years as part of its strategy to encourage bioproducts.
A bioproduct uses biomass from agriculture and forestry to produce energy and manufactured goods.
In Myrowich’s case, his bioproduct is straw from farmers’ cereal crops. Converting this renewable resource into a manufactured product creates jobs for the local economy and, hopefully, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s the kind of green initiative the province wants to see more of in its efforts to diversify rural and northern Manitoba.
“Manitoba is ideally positioned on the emerging bioproducts revolution and to secure a leading position in the new bioeconomy,” Premier Greg Selinger announced Jan. 20 in Riverton where Myrowich’s company Erosion Control Blankets is located.
Myrowich, the company’s CEO, said erosion control blankets are just what the name implies. They cover bare earth to prevent soil erosion until grass can grow through them and restore natural ground cover.
“Our product is the cover to protect the soil from the time it’s bare to when there’s vegetation,” said Myrowich.
Erosion Control Blankets takes two nets – sort of like fishnets made of jute or other fibre – and places wheat straw between them.
The nets are sewn together and rolled up as you would a carpet. At the site, they are unrolled and fastened down with six-inch staples. A mechanism implants grass seed on top of the blankets.
Over time, rain falls through the biodegradable blanket and grass grows from underneath to restore the site to a natural state.
Sites which use erosion control blankets include construction, housing developments and roadways. Highway development makes up roughly half the market, Myrowich said.
The average site is five to 10 acres in size, although Myrowich said he has covered sites as large as 60 acres.
Erosion Control Blankets is the largest employer in Riverton with 35 employees and a $1-million payroll.
The company is one of more than 30 in Manitoba which make bioproducts. Some other examples include Plains Industr ial Hemp Processing in Gilbert Plains, which processes hemp straw into mats, fuel pellets and other products, and Solanyl Bio-polymer in Carberry, which makes a
biodegradable plastic from potato starch.
Agriculture is a perfect fit for bioproducts, said Doug Chorney, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.
Currently, the crops farmers grow are used mostly for food and feed. Only a little goes into manufactur ing fibre products, said Chorney, who farms near Selkirk.
“There’s a lot of public pressure to see producers change their practices. One of the ways to deal with that would be developing alternative markets for crop residue,” he said.
“If we can make money at it, that’s going to be key.” [email protected]
– MARK MYROWICH