A barn dance in our board shorts.
The Neutrog of today is world away from the Neutrog of 1988 (when we began). That Neutrog almost ended on the proverbial dung heap. We had a good product – our chicken poo contained a diverse range of nutrients and was suitable for a wide range of soil conditions. However, what it didn’t contain was a huge amount of phosphate… and to farmers, phosphate was everything – if you weren’t using superphosphate (9% phosphate) or even double or triple concentrated superphosphate then you just weren’t on the same page. Our 2% wasn’t received well… it was like we’d turned up to a barn dance in our board shorts. We put in considerable effort promoting the benefits of our nutrient-rich/more nutrient-diverse fertiliser to farmers – that our 2% phosphate fertiliser was just as effective as their superphosphates. But in the end, not enough farmers were prepared to dance with us.
Less is more (unless you’re convinced more is more).
Then we discovered that massive amounts of chicken poo were being used in horticulture and viticulture, and that the growers understood its benefits. However, there were also a few negatives: raw chicken poo is hard to spread evenly, it can readily burn plants, contains diseases and promotes weed growth. Still, we could see a lot of upside (poo-tential) – this time, our product would out-perform the excepted standard.
So we piled in the poo and left it to decompose in large thermophilic (heat retaining) piles for about 3 months. The piles were turned to provide oxygen for bacteria. This, in turn, controlled the temperature – warm enough to kill off the bad bugs but not hot enough to kill the good ones. That meant the nutrients in the poo were readily available to be taken up by the plant.
After a few months, the chicken poo was screened (the crap was removed from the poo), steam-treated at composting temperature, pelleted and tested. The results were very pleasing – it was easy to spread and we had eradicated the weeds and diseases. But even more pleasingly, it only required 1 tonne of Neutrog to do the job of 9 tonnes of the ‘scooped from the shed’ variety.
The growers loved the easy, evenly-spreading pellets, were impressed we’d removed the weeds, and pumped about the eradication of diseases. But guess what… they found it hard to accept that 1 tonne of ours was better than 9 tonnes of theirs – 9 tonnes had to be better because it was… more. Their logic was based on the premise that putting more organic material in the soil must mean there’s more organic matter in the soil. It seems reasonable, except… it’s just not accurate.
In one test, we spread 1 tonne of our composted and pelleted chicken manure over a hectare of land (3000 tonnes of topsoil), and did the same with 9 tonnes of their raw chicken poo on a different hectare of land. Neither made a poo-load of difference to the initial organic carbon levels. Ours added 0.0001% to the topsoil and theirs added 0.001% (in line with the discrepancy in volume). However, after a year, our organic matter readings had increased by 0.5 percentage points, whereas theirs had remained essentially the same. This proved to us that the quantity of material applied makes virtually no difference to the organic matter content of soil. Rather, it’s the ability of the material to act as a catalyst in generating higher levels of organic matter – facilitating the natural breakdown of organic materials and minerals, and increasing the potential of available organic materials (like enhanced root growth) which provide the bulk of organic matter and nutrients found in soil.
So, anyway, we persisted, informed and educated. In the end, the proof was in the pellets. Neutrog had established itself and products like Rapid Raiser and Bounce Back became very popular.
Biological… a logical evolution.
Neutrog was well established as a leading organic fertiliser producer when we started delving into the nature of our fertilisers from a biological point of view – we wanted to know why 1 tonne of Neutrog consistently out-performed 9 tonnes of the raw stuff. So we hypothesised, deduced and finally arrived at the theory that bacteria played a significant role in nutrient uptake. After all, nothing can exist without bacteria… including the cycling of nutrients.
We approached (and gained the services of) world-renowned molecular micro-biologist, Dr Uwe Stroeher. He concurred with our broad theory that bacteria proliferated through the composting process. He further proposed that, after many years of composting the same materials on the same site, we had effectively bred ‘super’ bugs – one’s that were highly proficient in breaking down organic matter (and unlocking the nutrients in soil). Then we began experimenting in earnest.
We put composted chicken poo into beer brewing kits with the idea of brewing ‘super composting’ bacteria. We had a few false starts (added too much sugar – and not enough oxygen – and made lactic acid instead), but eventually we propagated the good bacteria found in our compost. It was a game changer – we had brewed a microbe-diverse ‘potion’ from which a whole new world of possibilities suddenly opened up. From this, we created strange brews (added kelp, straw, fish meal, coal and other nutrient-rich/nutrient-diverse ingredients) which eventually became products like GOGO Juice, Seamungus and Gyganic.
It’s also revolutionised our composting process – we’ve invented (and patented) our Poultus Microbial Optimisation Technology. It inoculates the chicken poo with a wide diversity of bacteria known for their ability to breakdown organic materials. We’ve called it eNcase – it dramatically improves (and quickens) decomposition, enriches the poo with nutrients and reduces the stinky-ness. It also improves the ‘safety’ of the poo by acting as a ‘deterrent’ to pathogenic and disease causing bacteria.
As a company, Neutrog is only at the beginning of its biological evolution, but we are already manufacturing novel and imaginative products that have never been made – ones that are more microbiological diverse, and therefore more robust and adaptable, providing increased stress resistance (drought, heat, frost) in plants. We are researching, examining and DNA matching, endeavouring to uncover the true scope of bacterial diversity and the probiotic potential of these products. It’s exciting to think of where the future may take us and the possibilities these biological formulations may bring.