An innovative Waikato company is lifting its efforts to provide a natural solution for some of the big challenges facing those working on the land.
Farmers and growers are being challenged to lower their environmental footprint while meeting higher expectations from consumers, Mike Prendergast of Blue Pacific Minerals said. “We know farmers want to do the right thing by the consumer, the public, their animals and the environment. “I’ve seen a lot of farms around the world and I would say New Zealand farmers are the best when it comes to adopting new technology to be cleaner and more efficient.”
Mike is the company’s sales and portfolio manager for its agriculture division which is researching and developing products to help farmers meet consumer and environmental expectations. He joined the company in 2020 after 16 years working in the milking machine sector, the last 7 or 8 years were in an international role covering 23 countries, working with grass-based and barn farming systems. “The timing was good to exit that sector, the travel was getting too much, Covid-19 began to emerge.
“I took the opportunity to get back into dairy nutrients with a forward-thinking company that had some great product widely known - used in New Zealand and internationally.”
He recognised the potential of the company’s initial mini product range and in a short time has raised their profile. The company is now fast becoming a leading producer of feed supplements for calves which ensure the animals’ health for those crucial first 60 days of growth. It is also finding great demand for its bedding additive which absorbs moisture, kills bacteria and reduces odour to keep pens clean and disease free for those farming dairy, poultry, goats and pigs. The key ingredient for the solutions is a natural mineral called zeolite, a thermally altered clay.
Zeolites are known as super soakers because they have a large internal surface area for absorption and high cation exchange for nutrient management.
BPM is waiting patiently for ACVM registration to allow use of its claims around binding toxins. The BPM zeolite is well known to also adsorb excess ammonium in the digestive tract, working as a natural tonic for animals. Blue Pacific Minerals harvest zeolites at a quarry about 40kms from its processing plant in Tokoroa, South Waikato.
Mike said interest in the calf feed supplements at Fieldays 2021 outstripped expectations. And sales for the feed supplements were better than forecast for the first three-to-four weeks of the calving season. “I think it’s the natural approach which has sparked farmers’ interest. “We are also avoiding using antibiotics in feed products, which is the way a lot of other countries are going. “Our supplements have prebiotics and probiotics, with all the right trace minerals animals need and I think that has piqued interest as well.”
Blue Pacific Minerals is exploring other applications for zeolites in the primary industry.
It has partnered with the Crown Research Institute, Scion, to develop a zeolite-based product to combat algal problems in lakes. When applied to the sediment layer in a lake, it absorbs rogue phosphorus, cutting off the food source for problematic algae.
In the dairy sector, trial data suggests zeolite-based products, when fed to livestock, help reduce urinary nitrogen. Mike said research to determine the level of nitrogen reduction is on-going. But potentially it could help dairy farmers and horticultural growers meet regional council consents that require nitrate leaching outputs to be below a sinking-lid threshold. “It means we may be able to contribute to the sustainable future of the farming sector around the world.” Mike believed the company’s products were underutilised in New Zealand but that is starting to change now. “We’re finding more farmers are asking about our products, they’re reading up and learning more. “When we go on-farm, people already know about our products and they’re asking how they can apply it to their own farming system.”
Mike has three staff working with farmers and growers around the country, two more are likely to be added soon to meet demand. Internationally, the company exports zeolite-based products to the UK, Ireland, Asia and the US but New Zealand remains a key market, Mike said. “I can see our calf products are going to be important for New Zealand farmers and Australia as well. “The bedding products will be larger overseas I think where there are more barn-based farming countries like the UK, Europe and North America.
“We’re also looking at a joint venture in Ireland and the UK, using a distributor model.”
Mike works from the company’s Tokoroa zeolite processing plant, an $11m investment which was commissioned in 2016. “We have 50 people working in Tokoroa and we’re looking to expand, to further increase the capacity of the value-adding plant, which could take place over the next 18 to 24 months.