Featherston Resources chief executive Emma Weston and
chairman Tim Goodacre at the Taieri plant yesterday hold a
large lump of raw, unprocessed rock diatomite which has
been mined from the Middlemarch area. Photos by Peter
A multimillon-dollar fertiliser export business was
launched decisively on the Taieri Plain yesterday with a
massive inaugural export consignment of 1000 tonnes heading to
Australia next month.
Privately owned Sydney-based Featherston Resources has since
1997 poured more than $10 million into research and
development for commercialising a large diatomite deposit in
Middlemarch; recently completing construction of an almost $1
million processing plant near Mosgiel.
Chief executive Emma Weston said the large Australian wheat
belt was initially being targeted for export, but numerous
types of applications were being investigated, the New
Zealand dairy sector having been identified as a main
The Middlemarch quarry contains an estimated 20 million
tonnes of diatomite, drilling results from 40m deep to beyond
150m revealing an estimated 6 million tonnes as being
Ms Weston said Featherston is targeting annual production of
10,000 tonnes - split 50:50 for export and domestic use -
which at present prices of $A695 ($NZ944) a tonne equates to
$NZ9.4 million in annual sales.
"We're comfortable at 10,000 tonnes but the plant should be
able to easily push to 20,000 tonnes," Ms Weston said.
The Middlemarch diatomite has high levels of opaline silica
and carbon (organic) matter.
The diatomite is processed into fertiliser pellets (a
handful of which can be seen top right). The fertiliser
product is destined for sale in the Australian wheat belt
from next month.
Once it was quarried and dried, nitrogen and phosphorous
were added, along with any other trace elements as required for
Featherston chairman Tim Goodacre said Featherston had
contracted an Australian distributor and had about 4000
grain-growing clients, including many already under contract.
"Each batch can be individually customised to what a client
needs," Mr Goodacre said.
Before the opening ceremony, with more than 50 guests,
including southern shareholders and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull,
Mr Goodacre said farmers and horticulturists wanted to move
away from fertilisers and soil conditioners containing
chemicals and synthetics to use natural and compound products
with trace minerals.
Aside from fertiliser to improve crop yields, other
investigations are under way into applications for
suppression of soil pathogens, which was revealing "good
results", and also dealing with established diseases such as
crown rot and take-all in wheat, and bacterial blast in
A memorandum of understanding had been signed with potential
Indian customers and talks were under way with potential
Chinese and Southeast Asian customers, Mr Goodacre said.
It was first confirmed in late 2008 that Featherston was
field testing the Middlemarch fossilised diatomite in
Australia and around Dunedin as a fertiliser and soil
conditioner, as an alternative for the standard hard
fertiliser traditionally used on farms.
While the number of Featherston shares on private issue had
doubled during the past almost three years, Mr Goodacre said
the company would continue with private equity funding.
It had recently been in talks with investors in Hong Kong and
Singapore, and in the "long term" the company might consider
listing and floating on a stock exchange; either the New
Zealand or Australian bourse.
The Taieri plant will have up to eight staff, plus occasional
Most of the plant's construction, and crushing and
mineral-drying equipment was sourced from local companies,
and was built with expansion in mind, Ms Weston said.