Eight years of research and development to create a line of products using the pest seaweed Undaria Pinnatifida is paying off for Waikaitu Limited, which is poised to heavily expand into the export market within the next few months.
In mid-2019, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) invested $325,600 through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund to help the Nelson-based company achieve its goal of manufacturing a range of nutritional, bio-stimulant and crop protectant products in New Zealand.
This included creating a pilot processing plant that could be easily replicated and scaled up to meet global demand.
"It's taken a lot of effort and innovation to get to where we're at," Waikaitu chief executive Alex Pressman said.
"We've developed manufacturing capability by engineering our own specialised equipment that is capable of processing the Undaria. We've also trained up local mussel farmers to harvest the seaweed cleanly from their lines, so we have good quality raw material to work with."
Undaria grew fast and was the scourge of mussel farmers, who constantly needed to remove it from their lines.
"We've found a valuable use for this invasive species, while creating an additional income for local mussel farmers," Pressman said.
Waikatu's point of difference was that they used fresh seaweed, rather than seaweed that had been dried out prior to processing.
This retained the potency of the seaweed, so it packed an environmentally friendly punch.
Waikaitu's products aimed to address the agricultural industry's global concerns of plant resilience to climate change, the health of soils and waterways, and increasing resistance of fungal pathogens to standard chemical controls.
"Our products help build up soil health, and assist with carbon sequestration, which reduces the reliance on chemical fertiliser," Pressman said.
Steve Penno, Director Investment Programmes at MPI, said the Waikaitu project was a natural fit for SFF Futures.
"A key aspect we require before investing in projects is that they'll have enduring benefits beyond the company, group or organisation leading them," Penno said.
"In the case of the Waikaitu project, they've created a revenue stream from a pest product, helping mussel farmers to deal with a pest that's costing them money and time."
The company was in the final stages of a global distribution deal to ensure availability of their products to growers through existing distribution channels.
This global distributor had invested significantly into verifying the products' efficacy within multiple markets with randomised and replicated trials over three years.
In addition, third party trials were conducted in California to verify the benefits for increasing nutrient use efficiency and reduced leaching of nitrates into the water table.
"In particular, the trial data produced by the global distributor has shown statistically significant results as an anti-fungal plant protectant," Pressman said.
"There is enough of the invasive species to source through the existing supply channel in Marlborough and Golden Bay to change the landscape of the mussel industry and create a new leading industry for the region.
"Our dream is to have an established and thriving export market for our products within the next five years."