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WABASH, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The vice president of operations of North Manchester-based MPS Egg Farms says plans to partner with agbioscience company Hello Nature to produce natural fertilizer products are about four years in the making. The companies announced plans Monday to build and operate a $50 million fertilizer manufacturing operation in Wabash. Dan Krouse says the MPS leadership team traveled to Verona, Italy, where Hello Nature parent Italpollina has been producing specialty fertilizers for more than 50 years.

“We’re really impressed by the operation and their expertise in the fertilizer markets,” said Krouse. “They’ve been interested in doing something similar here in the United States for several years.”

The companies say the project involves the construction of two facilities totaling nearly 300,000-square feet and will employ 46 people when operational.

Artist rendering of proposed fertilizer plant for Wabash. (image courtesy: MPS Egg Farms and Hello Nature)
MPS has 11 million egg-laying hens on the job at four farming operations in northern Indiana and Illinois. Krouse says the Wabash County farms alone produce 80,000 tons of chicken litter (manure and bedding material)

“That all goes on to row crops right now [as] a great natural fertilizer. Our hope is that as our partnership, Bionutrients, ramps up production, we will eventually commit 100% of that litter production,” said Krouse.

While a majority of the chicken waste goes on row crops, like corn, Krouse says Hello Nature’s technologies create natural field nutrients for a variety of crops, including apples and blueberries.

“We believe that this new production facility will be a turning point for the North American market,” said Luca Bonini, Hello Nature’s chief executive officer. “Today the fertilizer industry undergoes multiple challenges such as rising prices, logistics issues and shortage of inputs, and there is a desperate need for innovative solutions to feed a growing population with less inputs and less land available.”

Krouse says the company evaluated several sites in two states, but decided Wabash was the ideal location for this new venture

“We have been so thrilled with the community’s engagement. A lot of community stakeholders have invested time and effort to understand this project and vet the project and make sure it’s right for Wabash County.”

The partnership purchased the ground from the Wabash County Redevelopment Commission and provided input about the project, ensuring it was a “good fit” for the community, said Krouse.

“Wabash County has always been a strong center for agribusiness and manufacturing, and this investment is the perfect marriage of the two, continuing the legacy of innovation in our community,” said Wabash Mayor Scott Long.

Based on the company’s job creation plans, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. has committed $490,000 in tax credits, based on job creation.

The partners will break ground this spring, with the facility fully operationally in the summer of 2023.

NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — North Manchester-based MPS Egg Farms has broken ground on a facility it says will produce the world’s first carbon-neutral, cage-free eggs for The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) and its Simple Truth brand. The system uses an enclosed barn, but still offers an open environment with a partial sunroof and wooded-like environment that allows hens to roam. MPS is partnering with Kipster Farms, an egg farm in The Netherlands that developed the concept.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Vice President of Business Development Sam Krouse explained how the shift embraces the company’s mission.

“We really think that this is where consumers are headed. We’re seeing more and more consumers migrating towards higher end eggs,” said Krouse. “More people are going for things like free range, pasture-raised, elevated animal welfare standards. And it’s a place where we knew that MPS wanted to play. We love the idea of producing in a sustainable manner.”

Krouse says MPS is the first commercial egg producer in the U.S. to adopt this production model. According to the Kipster website, its concept puts hen health and welfare at the heart of the business. It seeks to improve egg production, globally, at the “economic, environmental and societal levels.”

“These eggs will be produced in a closed-loop system that aligns with the highest health and welfare standards for people and animals,” said Brad Studer, senior director, Our Brands for Kroger. “These sustainable, zero-waste eggs reflect yet another milestone in Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste mission to help create communities free of hunger and waste.”

In addition to solar panels and natural lighting, the four new barns will also offer what Krouse calls a “jungle gym”-like environment for the egg layers.

“Their natural preference is to be pretty close to each other and to have room to climb. The Kipster model is based on a little bit smaller footprint, but more things, like trees, to climb on. So, the chickens can actually feel really safe and comfortable.”

The hen’s diet is also changing. Instead of corn or soybean-based feed, the Kipster system uses a special-developed feed made from surplus food generated by industrial bakeries and other food producers.

“Any bakery just by virtue of the way they produce has some overruns, like at the beginning of production or the end of production that needs to go to other uses besides human consumption. A lot of times that goes into animal feed,” explained Crouse.

While not organic, Kipster says the feed has a smaller carbon footprint than standard chicken feed. It consists of 95% leftovers and 5% vitamins and minerals.

MPS Eggs is one of the ten largest egg producers in the U.S and the first to invest in this system. The company’s history dates to 1875. In recent years, the company has evolved to include more sustainable production practices. Krouse says this latest investment is a natural progression and a response to consumer demand.

“This will be a really small piece of our volume business. We’re still producing eggs for the masses, but it’s an important piece to our portfolio in terms of kind of rounding out our offerings for any retailer,” said Krouse. “So, a small piece of our volume but important piece of the company strategy.”

MPS Eggs produces 220 million dozen annual. The Kipster process will produce two million dozen initially but could grow depending on demand.

MPS broke ground on its first of four barns in North Manchester in October. It expects to have Kroger’s Simple Truth eggs available in select stores in late 2022.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana is suing officials at a northern Indiana school, alleging that they violated a Black student’s First Amendment rights by sending him home for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the text, “I hope I don’t get killed for being Black today.”

The complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in South Bend names the principal and assistant principal of North Manchester Jr.-Sr. High School in Manchester, Indiana, as defendants.

The lawsuit asks the court to award the student damages and direct administrators to allow him to continue wearing the shirt at school.

The male junior is identified only as D.E. in court documents.

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) — Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana is continuing to distribute food in “tailgate” events, with new dates confirmed for the coming week.

The group expanded its tailgate events in April on the coronavirus began taking a toll on Indiana. Gov. Eric Holcomb dispatched 30 Army National Guard members to help with the efforts to expand the food distribution.

Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana is the region’s largest hunger-relief organization serving over 100 pantries and meal programs in eight counties: Blackford, Delaware, Grant, Henry, Jay, Madison, Randolph and Wabash.

Here are upcoming food distributions:

No IDs or proof of address or need are required; all are welcome. Distribution is while supplies last. If you are walking up or coming via a vehicle too small to carry a load of food, please arrive an hour after the tailgate starts.

Coronavirus links

Indiana coronavirus timeline

With information from the Indiana Department of Health through March 4, 2021, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.