Dynamite diatomite fertiliser launched

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 McIntosh.
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 McIntosh.
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 potential market.

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 commercially viable.

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.
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 different customers.

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 stonefruits.

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 casual workers.

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.

simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

ODT/directory - Local Businesses

CompanyLocationBusiness Type
M.C Mitchell Concreting LtdOamaruSpecialist Trades
Bradley Nuttall Southern Lakes LtdWanakaInvestment Services
KJ Mac ContractingDunedinContractors
Hydraulic Service and RepairDunedinSpecialist Trades