aGRO Systems Redefines the role of waste
Victoria Ross’s father has been a beef cattle rancher for almost 50 years, and she grew up on the ranch. And she knows that hard work doesn’t always pay the bills.
“On top of all the hard labour intensive farm work, [my father] was also doing a fulltime night job… He had to do both jobs to pay the bills,” said Ross, the founder of aGRO Systems.
In university, Ross started researching Canadian farmers, to see if other families experienced similar struggles. She found that around half of all Canadian farmers need a second job to make ends meet.
Using her familiarity with Canadian farming and land sustainability, Ross started looking at the applications and possibilities for waste in farming. This inspired her to start aGRO Systems.
Alberta is Canada’s largest beef producer and, as such, also the largest beef manure producer. aGRO systems began with the aim of making this waste into something useful: electricity and fertilizer. Both are major expenses for farmers. This could be achieved with an onsite machine to capture the methane from the manure while converting to fertilizer. The methane could then be used for some basic power needs in the barns, while the fertilizer goes to farmers’ crops, making waste into a multipurpose asset. While working to make this system efficient and affordable, Ross came across another pressing waste problem, this time in the brewing industry.
A local brewery approached aGRO to figure out what to do with the by-product of the brewing process – spent grain. Viewed as waste by breweries, spent grain can be used as animal feed. Ross did some research and found that in the brewing process, “all of the sugars are extracted and what is left is a high-fibre and high-protein meal.”
In taking on this waste, aGRO could provide a service to local breweries and farmers, as well as the environment, since they are able to provide a cost-efficient solution for both, while making use of something that is traditionally thrown away.
In the future, aGRO Systems hopes to continue developing cost-effective models of the systems they created, with the aim of supporting Alberta’s producers in reducing both waste and their costs, while generating energy.
Ross’s enterprise is the perfect example of a young Albertan innovator confronting local problems and using the principles she was raised on to generate a win-win solution.