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Basalt soil product catching on

Cascade Minerals soil amendment

by: Photo By - Central Oregon Basalt Products managing partner Scott Andrews stands outside the new office in the Madras Industrial Park.


   Local basalt, ground down to a sand-like powder, and sold as a soil amendment called Cascade Minerals, is the latest focus of Central Oregon Basalt Products.
   The company, which opened in May 2011, was formed by Mike Weber, managing partner of Central Oregon Seeds Inc., and includes all five partners of COSI as well as others, but operates as a stand-alone company.
   Weber is the company president, and Scott Andrews is the managing partner, and there are eight other employees.
   The Central Oregon Basalt Products office is located on Mill Street in a newly remodeled building next to the COSI seed-cleaning plant.
   Basalt has been incorporated into the building's design with walkway pavers made from slices of basalt, and entryway columns featuring rough-hewn basalt blocks and polished basalt slabs which resemble marble.
   Initially, COBP purchased a 1,300-acre quarry off Quaale Road to mine 30- to 50-ton rocks of high-quality, dense basalt -- the kind sought by the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain its jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River.
   "We've exposed the source of stone and are waiting for the Corps of Engineers to take bids on a project," Andrews said.
   In the meantime, the company is producing gravel for its own use, and has hired Rocky Ridge Excavation to crush rock for the Cascade Minerals product.
   The crushed rock is brought in totes to the Mill Street site where it is ground further into finely-milled basalt, which makes up the soil amendment.
   "We've done extensive testing and greenhouse trials in Madras and the results we're getting are fantastic," Andrews said, noting former extension agent Rich Affeldt has been doing the testing.
   The reason ground-up basalt makes a good soil amendment is because of the nutrients it contains, including calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese, plus 70 trace elements, he said.
   "The most promising, regarding plant growth, are the trace elements," Andrews said, adding, "One element might affect lettuce differently than it does tomatoes."
   COBP is still doing tests, and plans to build two greenhouses across the street to conduct replication and potting trials on fruits, vegetables and other plants.
   "My own onions I grew at home were impressive. There's a huge difference in the ones grown with the amendment, compared to the ones grown without," Andrews said.
   They've gotten the same feedback from customers who have used the product. "We've heard the same on corn, tomatoes, blueberries and plums, and we're exploring (use in) vineyards," he said.
   "The rule of thumb for the application rate is 1 to 3 tons per acre, depending on the soil type," he said.
   Cascade Minerals is sold in 10-, 20-, and 44-pound bags, at a suggested retail price of $14.95 for 10 pounds.
   One-ton pallets of the product are loaded onto trucks and are being marketed from Southwest Washington to the California border through eight distributors, including Azure Standard and Down to Earth Products.
   In Madras, Cascade Minerals is available at Madras Garden Depot.
   Saying they are aiming at nationwide distribution, Andrews said the company is working with a firm in North Carolina to obtain state registrations and certifications first.
   COBP is also looking into getting into the Chinese export market by selling Cascade Minerals to a company that would mix it with coconut fiber to use as an alternative to peatmoss.
   "We're very excited about this and the product is getting a lot of attention all across the states. We have 24 tons going out today," Andrews said.