Genuine MS Podcast Hosts Kengro President on Episode 8: Leaders in the Field
Kengro Corporation is proud to be a member of Genuine Mississippi in the “Made” category. Genuine MS is a program coordinated by the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture, Andy Gipson, and his team to promote the best of everything being grown, raised, crafted, and made in Mississippi.
Genuine MS recently invited our president Brent Brasher of Kengro Corporation; Matthew Summers of Speedbox; and Dennis Short of Shortline Manufacturing to discuss what they have each been “making” in the state of Mississippi.
The episode opens with Commissioner Andy Gipson asking each Leader what he thinks of being a Mississippi business owner in a state that is sometimes clouded by negative imagery.
Brasher's response to this is,
“It goes back to traveling around the country and traveling around the world. Mississippi does have this certain negative image, and when you introduce this new product that is the only one like it IN the world and it was born in Mississippi, it really makes you proud to go out and show people.”
Brasher is referring to Kengro’s biodegradable oil absorbent Biosorb, made from all-natural plant fibers grown and harvested in Mississippi.
“We can get it done, and we DO get it done in Mississippi,” says Brasher.
Gipson also asks Brasher how he began growing kenaf, a plant native to Southeast Asia and in the same family as cotton and okra.
“It’s about survival, " Brasher responds. "In the 80s, we started looking at commodities and the traditional routes of distributing those commodities. It just got to a point where we said, ‘if we’re going to stay in this thing, we’ve got to value add.’ We started looking into all these alternative crops.”
With the help of former Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten, Kengro eventually obtained kenaf seed from the Food and Seed Bank in Washington, DC, and began growing the crop. Brasher says Kengro originally began growing kenaf to provide pulp fiber to a recently opened paper manufacturing plant in the nearby town of Grenada, Mississippi.
“We looked at all different opportunities to value add some kind of commodity, and at the time, Newsprint South was being built right beside us in Grenada, and we saw an opportunity to grow kenaf to provide them with pulp, which adds strength value to newsprint.”
The opportunity in Grenada did not materialize; however, Kengro did end up selling pulp to paper companies in the beginning.
Brasher ventured into the oil absorbent industry by chance.
“In our early days; we just sold the outer part to the paper market. The inner part we were not using, so we were just piling up that fiber and the pile kept growing. That was when we partnered with MSU to search for ways to utilize it. That’s when we discovered plant bedding and oil absorbent opportunities. All of a sudden, that pile of core that we had that we didn’t have a market for and was a WASTE product became our primary product.”
Kengro’s main products are oil absorbents; however, Kengro’s basic industries include oil and gas, waste treatment facilities, pet bedding and now, erosion and sediment control.
Utilizing kenaf was almost a destiny of sorts for Brasher. Kenaf had been a topic of conversation in the Brasher family long before Brent even became a farmer. Sometime around 1968, when Brent was 6 years old, his uncle Jim returned from a trip to Thailand talking about the plant. Some 50 years later, kenaf has become the livelihood of the Brasher family.
Brasher emphasizes that Kengro would not exist without help from the state of Mississippi. Between Congressman Whitten’s help 30 years ago and research partnerships from MS colleges such as Mississippi State, Milsapps College, and Jackson State University, Kengro has been supported by Mississippi from start to finish.
When asked how Genuine MS has affected Kengro Corporation, Brasher says,
“Any time you can make a program, it’s always good to be able to tag things to it. And Genuine Mississippi, that what it does, it’s another way of standing out and letting people know what we're doing.”
Brasher also emphasizes the importance of MS supporting its own manufacturers.
“Currently, we do about 1 percent of our business in the state of Mississippi. It would be nice to see some of our other state agencies recognize and advocate that when people are purchasing, Genuine MS type products are here for opportunities IN the state.”
Brasher and Kengro would like to thank Commissioner Andy Gipson for inviting us on the podcast, and Genuine MS for assembling one place for the world to view all the incredible things being grown, raised, crafted, and made in Mississippi.
This article was written by Alexandra Brasher using the podcast linked below:
Genuine MS: https://soundcloud.com/mdac-genuinems/leaders-in-the-field