Dramm Corp. turns fish scraps into fertilizer
Dramm Corp.’s Algoma plant is turning recycled fish scraps into a $2.2 million fertilizer business.
The business got its start in the 1990s when Algoma resident Chuck Bowman began gathering dead alewives from the beach and fish offal left by fishermen at the Algoma Marina, turning them into fertilizer in a garage.
In 1999, he partnered with Kurt Dramm, who owned a family horticulture business, Dramm Corp. in Manitowoc, to produce Drammatic Organic Fertilizer in an old warehouse on Wisconsin 54. Today, the warehouse is undergoing its third renovation and expansion with a 12,000-square-foot addition expected to be completed this spring.
“The demand for organic fertilizer is increasing,” says Hans Dramm, chief financial officer. “There are lots of exciting opportunities. Our fertilizer does the right thing by preventing fish remains from filling up a landfill or being washed down a sewer system.”
Last year, the company sold 550,000 gallons of the fertilizer, up from 380,000 gallons in 2014, Dramm said.
Ninety to 95 percent of the company’s sales are to farmers and agricultural distributors, with the other 5 to 10 percent sold to independent garden centers and distributors, according to Dramm.
The fertilizer is organically certified and the new space will house up to 16 additional 12,500-gallon tanks for fermenting the fish remains into fertilizer, said Fritz Dramm, Hans’ cousin and the company’s fertilizer production and compliance manager.
Each year, the company processes more than 5 million pounds of fish scraps. Some of the scraps are obtained locally, including from the original Algoma Marina fish cleaning station and Bearcats Fish House as well as from other fishermen in Kewaunee and Door counties, said Fritz. The company also sources fish scraps from the Chicago fish markets, as well as other Canadian and Midwest locations, he said.
“We want to ramp up our production and capacity,” Fritz said, noting that there are both ample supplies of fish scraps (known as racks) and demand for the fertilizer in national and international markets.
About 10 percent of the fertilizers’ sales are international with the largest markets in China, Korea, Israel and Palestine, he said. The company has been working to sell its product to China under its brand and label by subcontracting with a supplier on the West Coast.
Unlike fish emulsions, where the fish is cooked at a high temperature and the oil is removed for chemical, pharmaceuticals and and cosmetics, Dramm produces its fertilizer from fresh fish carefully processed at low temperatures to maintain the integrity of naturally occurring amino acids, vitamins, hormones and enzymes. The raw material is then stored in digestion tanks to liquefy the product and produce a product called a “hydrolysate.”
Both Hans and Fritz are grandchildren of Dramm Corp.’s founder, John G. Dramm. In 1941, John, then a Manitowoc florist, invented a product called the 400AL Water Breaker in his basement, that was to become the cornerstone of the Dramm Corp..
This year marks the company’s 75th anniversary of Dramm’s invention.
“Technically it’s a bit gray … but 1941 was the best evidence we could find of the beginning of his tinkering, marketing and selling,” said Hans of his grandfather’s invention..
His grandfather died at 47 and it was his wife, Perdita, who kept the business running until she turned it over to her two sons, Kurt and John. John, who was also an inventor, expanded the menu and manufacturing of Dramm products, until he also died too early at 45.
Kurt today still serves as the company’s chairman of the board. Through acquisitions, Dramm has also added to its horticulture technology by acquiring German-made Puslfog machines, low-volume chemical applicators, and Japanese Autofog, a cold fogger that requires no applicator.
Today, the Dramm Corp. manufactures and distributes a complete line of professional greenhouse tools and equipment throughout the world through its four segments: commercial equipment, consumer products, water treatment systems and organic fertilizer.
“There is excitement in seeing a company move from a basement operation to a multimillion-dollar global corporation,” says Hans. In addition to Kurt and Fritz, the business includes Han’s sister, Heidi, and her husband, Kurt Becker, as well as other family members..
The company currently employs about 60 full-time workers at its Manitowoc facility and three in Algoma, but is expecting to add up to two more full-time employees in Algoma due to the expansion, Fritz said.
Hans notes that the busy season for selling fertilizer will start in March. Drammatic Organic Fertilizer is sold locally in hardware and garden stores, including Walter’s How-To Hardware in Algoma, Door County Ace Hardware and Bonnie Brooke Gardens in Sturgeon Bay, and many hardware stores and retail nurseries in Green Bay.
“This is the future of American agriculture,” said Winona LaDuke, a Native American economist and environmental activist who visited the Algoma plant recently.
“Our people put fish on their crops for many centuries and American agriculture is learning to go back to putting natural things on their crops,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Dramm Corp. turns fish scraps into fertilizer