From Research to Business
Directors Clare and Tane Bradley welcome us to the family business. Tane explains the company’s origins: “Many years ago my mother and her partner visited an organic farm. Its crops were remarkably healthy and yielded astonishing amounts. The secret of the farm’s success? Seaweed. They were intrigued, and started researching seaweed for agricultural use. After much experimentation with all kinds of seaweeds, New Zealand’s native brown seaweed turned out to produce the best results.”
The couple realised that they had found a natural product with a plethora of uses and saw an opportunity. “In 1996 they started a company in seaweed-based soil improvement products. Their first customers were kiwi fruit growers, but soon more sectors became convinced of the benefits of seaweed,” Tane continues. “We now supply more than half of the wine grape growers and more than 15 percent of the dairy farmers in New Zealand,” says Tane proudly. “That’s impressive,” Ivar comments. “Can you tell us what seaweed actually does?”
Healthy Soil Biology
Before answering our question, Clare outlines farming practices in New Zealand: “Since the 1950s, agriculture has increasingly focused on optimizing fertilizers to increase yields. Although the initial results were good, we are increasingly seeing the negative long-term effects of fertilizers and pesticides. Not only do we pollute waterways and, according to some, also the food, the agricultural land is also becoming less productive.” The solution, according to AgriSea, comes from the sea.
“The basis of a healthy crop is healthy soil,” Clare proceeds. “Healthy soil is a collaborative, living ecosystem with billions of invisible microbes that need the right balance of nutrients to do their job. These microbes create symbiotic relationships between plant roots, soil nutrients, soil structure, and water. Without these relationships, plants cannot absorb the nutrients in the soil sufficiently.” And that is the crux of the matter, Clare explains. “Without access to nutrients, plants are susceptible to pests and less resistant to drought. In response, farmers typically use more synthetic fertilizer and pesticide, which does not improve the soil. Our approach is different, as we focus on healthy soil biology. The bio-stimulants that AgriSea makes from seaweed are a food source for the micro-organisms in the soil. By feeding them, they can do their job and improve the soil. As a result, farmers who use our products can drastically reduce their fertilizer and pesticide use, grow more and healthier plants, and improve their environmental performance.”
Superfood For Microbes
To show us how they make bio-stimulants from seaweed, Tane and Clare take us on a tour of the factory. In the warehouse area, large bags of dried seaweed sit on storage racks. “We grind dried seaweed into small pieces. Then we put them in barrels and add water and a spice mix. The substance is stirred daily and ferments slowly. Ultimately, the pieces of seaweed are filtered out and a concentrated extract remains.” “Just like making tea, really?” Floris concludes. “That’s how you could sum it up,” Clare agrees. “Our tea is a superfood for soil microbes. It is full of minerals, vitamins, growth promoters, trace elements and amino acids that feed the soil biology.” And what happens to the remains of the ground seaweed, we ask. “That is suitable for animal feed,” Clare explains. “So there is no waste in our production process!”