Leonardite is not something familiar to most yet you will learn the story of Leonardite Products in Williston, ND, and their push to grow the state’s economy through exporting. Cherie Harms, President of Leonardite Product, has, as she puts it, “lived in every corner and the middle of North Dakota and.” Seeing the state from so many angles, she is passionate about exporting and finds it a quintessential way to grow the ND economy.
Harms came to Leonardite Products in 2008 after the previous owners decided to sell following an electrical fire that disabled the original processing facility. She jumped in with both feet, taking on the opportunity to grow a ND industry. With majority ownership of the company, she is always looking for ways to do things better and make improvements. The team at Leonardite Products has continued to fine-tune the operation, Harms says, “in 2018, we added strategic partners who added experience and efficiency. Our R&D committee is looking for value-added products,” and much more. Learning a lot along the way, Harms has had many positions in the past, including Development Director of the North Dakota Trade Office, president of a recording company, development director at a medical center. Experience in marketing and advertising have prepared her for new challenges. “It’s been an adventure, ” she says, “my jobs have changed, but we are always talking on the phone, writing correspondence, and going to meetings. All of those are transferable skills.”
Leonardite, abundant in Western ND contains an organic humate found in. It is also used as an oil drilling fluid additive. Leonardite, named after A.G. Leonard, a geologist from the University of North Dakota, is a naturally occurring oxidized lignite. It is found about 10-15 feet below the topsoil. It is often used in soil to aid in crop production and healthier soils. There have been claims in the past about leonardite and similar humic products’ effectiveness and uses, yet Leonardite Products likes to let the data speak for itself.
With their data-focused approach, Harms says, “there are 23 different ways to test humic and fulvic acids, and consumers were comparing apples to oranges. So, we list several tests on our websites to help consumers understand how the test results vary. It had been difficult with companies promoting results from unidentified methods so in 2010 Harms felt it necessary to help create the Humic Products Trade Association, which she continues to serve as the Secretary-Treasurer. The Association works closely with processors, distributors, researchers, and mines to advance the commercial use of humic products and provide a backbone of regulation and research.
The primary leonardite Products customer is a fertilizer or drilling fluids manufacturer. They export globally with export concentration going to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Harms shares that “It has always been my goal throughout my career is to make North Dakota stronger by building a primary sector business. We can bring new money into the state, and help the economy and provide jobs.” She goes on to explain she feels as a small state, exporting is a key component to success for ND.
Her advice for exporters is to use the many resources available in the state, explaining that “especially in North Dakota, we are a small nimble state and we can often navigate more effectively.” She has had many positive experiences, but one that sticks out recently was with the US Commercial Service, which saved them from making a deal with a less-than-legitimate buyer. Even for seasoned exporters, there are still opportunities to utilize the services around you, do your research, and explore your options.
Leonardite Products, with Harms and her team at the helm, continues to make an impact in ND. The state has a geography rich in humic products, with a future that, can support and assist other uses in agriculture and beyond. What is next for Leonardite products? “Keep on improving,” says Harms, “we can always increase efficiencies and try to be open to new opportunities.”
For more information on Leonardite Products, visit their website here.