Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Deron Keener and Diversified Organics

Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Deron Keener and Diversified Organics
Diversified Organics Deron Keener, COO, is excited about the future potential of their high-quality, dairy compost.

Having covered the supply chain as a journalist in my former life, I’ve always been fascinated with agriculture businesses that are somewhat vertically integrated. I recently got to tour an example of one in the West Valley: Diversified Organics.

The experts tell us that vertical integration is a structure or arrangement where the organization, or company, owns and manages their own supply chain. Usually, each member of the supply chain produces a different product or (market-specific) service, and the products combine to satisfy a common need.

So, the agriculture example consists of three Arizona dairies (Boschma Dairy, Gerben-Boschma Dairy, and Danzeisen Dairy) partnered to make use of everything their cows produce and what a fine product they make from end to end.

Danzeisen Dairy of Danzeisen Milk is a member of Arizona Farm Bureau and their family has been involved in advocacy work on behalf of Farm Bureau.

An Interview with Deron Keener, COO of Diversified Organics in Phoenix, Arizona

An ongoing series of our farm and ranch businesses.

Explain Diversified Organics Business? We are a commercial composting facility. The business was born when three local dairies decided to look for a better way to handle the manure generated by the cows. Instead of just spreading raw manure on local fields, they wanted to create a higher quality product that would have more impact in the soil. We currently take manure from three dairies - Boschma Dairy, Gerben-Boschma Dairy, and Danzeisen Dairy - put it through a controlled, aerobic composting process that converts the nutrients into a plant-available form, and then sell to local customers. Our product is certified for organic use, and is also food safe, which simply means that it is pathogen-free, and therefore safe to apply to “Leafy Green” crops, such as lettuce or spring mix.

 

The compost windrows are closely monitored to maintain the ideal temperature ranges of 132 degrees minimum, but ideally a temperature range of 140 to 160-degrees. The heat breaks down the material and serves to kill pathogens.

The compost turner aerates the windrow. Turning the compost also helps regulate the temperature of the pile. Also, a turner is used to introduce moisture, usually while turning the pile. 

Who is your typical customer profile? Most of our customers are large scale organic farms, although we also sell to conventional farms, landscapers, gardeners, and anyone else who wants to use our compost.

What are your future plans with the company? Our business has always been about soil health, but we were focused on only one commodity – dairy compost. We will always produce dairy compost, but we want to move to a different level.

Our main goal is to help local farmers improve the health, fertility, and sustainability of their soil, which will enable them to grow healthier crops while lowering their cost of inputs. To that end, we are introducing more products than just dairy compost. We started producing a high-quality humus compost this year, which is a soil amendment that has an extremely high impact in the soil. We are also producing a liquid humus compost, or compost tea, that farmers can apply as a foliar or through drip irrigation. In short, instead of just providing a commodity to farmers, we want to offer a comprehensive soil fertility program, based on humus compost, and develop closer relationships with our customers to help them implement these programs.

Do you give tours and what’s the most surprising reactions to your visitors?   We have given tours before, and we definitely get lots of reactions! I would say the most common reaction we get surprises that there is no odor and no fly problem.  Most people assume that composting is an odorous process that attracts all manner of insects, but that’s only true if the composting process is poorly managed.

When composting is done correctly, odor and flies are never a problem, and we love to be able to prove that. We are always open to tours, and if anyone is interested they should contact Danzeisen Dairy for more information. 

What brought you here from back east? Well, it was several different factors. I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and the urban sprawl was becoming suffocating, especially to farming. I’ve always enjoyed the farming in Arizona, because of the scale, the climate, and the fact that you can farm year-round. And it was a good fit for me because I had been involved in the composting industry for quite a while and I saw a tremendous opportunity for high-quality humus compost. 

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