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Agromin is all action, little talk on reducing waste and emissions

November 5-11, 2021.  I  Vol. 22, No. 34.  I  By: Henry Dubroff, Editor

While world leaders were gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 U.N. Global Climate Summit, 5,134 miles away in Oxnard, Bill Camarillo was putting the final touches on a deal that will divert millions of tons of waste from California landfills. 

Over the next decade, it will also vastly increase the carbon absorption capacity of the state’s soils. As Camarillo explained on a Zoom call on Nov. 2, Agromin, the soil enrichment and composting company he’s helmed for the past two decades, has landed one of its biggest contracts. It has partnered with Republic Industries to contract with the cities of Sacramento and Folsom and the county of Sacramento to pick up and compost its organic waste for the next 10 years. For that it collects a per-ton diversion fee. 

The real upside to Agromin’s operations is not just the diversion of waste. What gives Agromin a competitive edge are its longtime relationships with farmers, who purchase its compost for use on their fields to reinvigorate soils that have been depleted of organic material after years of applying fertilizers. Agromin’s mulching process helps turn conventional agriculture into something closer to regenerative agriculture.

“We have moved from compost to climate change,” Camarillo said.

What’s driving Agromin’s growth this year is a mandate under California Senate Bill 1383 that requires municipalities and commercial users to divert their organic waste. “That’s 17 million tons a year, and very few are in compliance,” Camarillo said. Because it imposes potential penalties for noncompliance that are coming up fast, entities that drag their feet on implementing SB 1383 rules could be in for sticker shock.

An ex-Marine with an uncanny ability to remain focused on a singular task, Camarillo has transformed Agromin over the years into a dominant green waste recycler in southern California. The privately held company is 30 years old in 2021; ownership is split between Camarillo and E.J. Harrison, the Ventura-based waste management and recycling company.

Agromin rarely surfaces in the news because it is mainly a white-label operation. Deals with large trash haulers like Republic and Waste Management mean that it is largely invisible to the consumer. It also sells composted material to Dr. Earth, Miracle Grow and others who sell directly to consumers.

Its soils are helping grow the grass at SoFi Stadium and other high-profile venues, Camarillo said. And while Harrison bids head-to-head against large trash firms for contracts, Agromin is more often a partner on the green waste side of the equation. Camarillo described Waste Management and Republic as “customers and competitors.” He added: “It’s pretty hard to compete with 30 years of experience.”

While world leaders at the COP26 summit in Glasgow were criticized for arriving in C02-spewing private jets and making mild pledges to reduce global warming, Agromin has been tackling an enormous problem one shovelful at a time. Increasing the organic content of soils by just a couple of percentage points has a multiplier effect on reducing carbon, Camarillo said. 

The launch pad for Agromin’s now time-tested business model was an agreement struck with Santa Paula-based Limoneira a couple of decades ago. At its Ventura County operations, Limoneira takes Agromin’s composted green waste from the city of Ventura and uses it to reduce fertilizers, save water, and replenish soil on its avocado and lemon groves.

Time moves slowly in the composting world. The Agromin contract in Sacramento County is what Camarillo described as “short-term,” but it will run for 10 years. After 11 years of working through various regulations, it is now in the environmental study stage of developing a full-blown composting operation in the Santa Clara River Valley to accommodate a vastly expanded operation. 

But with time comes scale. Over 20 years, the Ventura diversion effort has increased from 300,000 tons to 1.2 million tons annually.

Looking across California, Camarillo sees plenty of opportunity for Agromin to replicate the success it’s had in Southern California in the rest of the state. “We’ve still got 17 million tons to go,” he said.

• Henry Dubroff is the owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times. He can be reached at [email protected]