Small and local with global view

Techion Group might comprise ''a little team in a tin shed in South Dunedin'' but the animal parasite diagnostics company is making waves internationally.

The company has partnered UK-based supermarket chain Sainsbury's to run a two-year international research and development project, rolling out on-farm technology to manage parasites.

Sainsbury's will support the cost of implementing Techion's technology, the FECPAK (g2) system, both in New Zealand and in the UK.

The project team also includes meat processors Alliance Group (New Zealand), Dunbia, and Randall Parker Foods (UK).

Techion founder Greg Mirams said the collaboration was ''still a bit mind-blowing'', particularly given Sainsbury's backed the small company when it had only a working prototype, and did not have a finished product.

He was confident the project would have a significant effect on farmers' profit and efficiency both in New Zealand and in the UK.

Parasites were the largest influencing factor on animal performance after nutrition, Mr Mirams said.

''The problem of increasing drug resistance by parasites to the drenches designed to kill them means we have to be smarter on how and when we use them, so it's important for farmers to make use of new technologies to make better decisions,'' he said.

Using information generated straight from the paddock, the FECPAK (g2) system gave farmers data to make informed parasite management decisions, increasing farm profits, lamb performance and reducing treatment costs.

They could also choose who received their data and it could be reported as industry monitoring.

Canterbury farmer Tony Plunkett, who has already signed up for the project, believed it was an exciting concept.

''Testing the old way meant there was too much human error and it was taking too long. We're using smart technology much more these days.

''Techion's system is user-friendly and puts accurate information at our fingertips so we can make a decision on the day whether we need to drench or not,'' he said.

With a background in farming and farm management systems, Mr Mirams started Fecpak 20 years ago.

The business was sold to PGG Wrightson in 2006 and he ''bought the ashes back'' in 2010 and Techion Group was formed.

The business was ''tiny'' and core staff numbers ranged from six to eight.

Because it had been in the industry for 20 years, including working in Europe, it had a lot of networks.

Mr Mirams met Sainsbury's agriculture manager Phil Hambling at the International Sheep Veterinary Congress in Rotorua last year.

A few months later, Mr Hambling asked Techion to apply to Sainsbury's 1.2 million research and development fund, which was open to all its primary produce suppliers.

Two projects were funded in lamb, the other was breeding sheep for resistance to parasites, showing parasite management was clearly a concern for the company, Mr Mirams said.

Although he declined to say how much funding the project was allocated, it was a portion of the 1.2 million.

An operations manager had been employed in Europe and the company was now trying to ''desperately make more product''.

More staff would definitely be taken on but it was important to stay focused and manage the growth, he said.

Although the project was all about sheep, Techion was working on validation of the system for the likes of deer, horses and cattle.

The equine industry alone could be bigger globally than sheep.

Mr Mirams' vision had always been for the company to be the global player in animal diagnostics, particularly parasitism, and there was no reason why it could not achieve that, he said.

The domestic market was very important but the international opportunities were huge.

''It's just one step at a time. Manage the opportunities, get your development right, get the customer experience good and move on from there.

''We need to get farmers on the programme, we want them to take the technology up. We think there's a great future,'' he said.

It was a subscription model and there was a commercial product for veterinary practices and laboratories.

Techion had tended to fly under the radar - ''we just get on and do stuff'' - like many other companies in Dunedin.

Mr Mirams was proud its equipment, from electronics to plastic mouldings, was designed, manufactured and built in the city.

To be in close proximity to those businesses it utilised was very useful, while modern communication enabled the company to be run from Dunedin ''very successfully''.

Techion was also quite closely linked with the University of Otago.

The FECPAK system used a patented particle accumulation technology owned and supplied by Menixis Ltd.

Menixis was founded by Mr Mirams, colleague Dr Stephen Sowerby and the university.

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