In a field, on sand, in a greenhouse, or on just poor soils, you can grow vegetables and other crops anywhere provided you take advantage of organic fertilizers. The company Integro, a new Ukrainian manufacturer, is confident about that. These adherents of green farming have already launched a factory capable of producing up to 500 tons of biofertilizers a year. Years of Integro’s scientific research have brought forth a unique technology for processing chicken manure. Their patented know-hows have allowed developing environmentally friendly organic fertilizer production lines with low cost of ownership.
Mr Anton Bulygin, Integro President, is talking about this “bio-novelty” at the market of Ukraine. On a side-note, the company head often shops at green stores and prefers to buy the goods labeled “bio”, “eco”, and “organic” for his kids.
Mr Bulygin, how did the idea of manufacturing biofertilizers come about?
We used to think about getting into some solid business for a long time and we were looking for an industry that would suit us. Then, with a stroke of luck, we found a niche that had not been occupied by that time. Speaking of the Ukrainian market of biofertilizers, I must sadly admit that this niche remains unoccupied even now; as far as we know, neither in Ukraine, nor in Europe there are similar offers on the continuous cycle production of “living” fertilizers out of pure chicken manure.
What do you offer to a farmer today?
Our main product for agriculturists is organic fertilizer called Gumino de gallina. We offer it in two fractions; solid and liquid. Gumino de gallina is a complex organic fertilizer rich both in macro (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur) and micro minerals (zinc, copper, manganese, cobalt, etc.) All the components of this fertilizer are easily consumed by plants. We position solid fertilizer as an additive for potting mixtures for ornamental plants or for making soil in greenhouses. Liquid fraction may be used for top and side dressing.
What agricultural crops are the best match for Gumino de gallina?
Our organic fertilizer has proved itself very well in growing of grain and vegetable crops, dressing small-fruit crops and fruit trees as well as in landscape design. American experience prompts that there are nice prospects in growing soybeans and maize. In the following year, we will definitely have our own experiments with these crops too. The scope of applications is really vast for Gumino de gallina. It may be used as dressing or main fertilizer for plants or to restore the fertile soil layer. The use of our organic fertilizer will make the plants more resistant to pests, promoting their intense growth, and ensuring green and healthy yield.
What makes Integro’s technology unique?
Speaking of biogas production technologies, they are several thousand years old. Commercially, they are well-developed in China, North America, and the EU. However, 99 per cent of these projects are aimed at obtaining energy, not fertilizers. And the issue of their environmental friendliness is doubtful. Most biogas plants (around 20 thousand) are installed in Europe. They use not only husbandry waste but also vegetable material in order to attain maximum energy efficiency. But where does this material come from? Acres and acres of fertile soil produce it. Which means that energy production imparts growing agricultural crops whereas millions of people in the world go starving. All energy-efficient crops exhaust the soil. We are all against such waste of land.
Likewise, we saw no point in competing with European energy technologies. They are backed by decades of experience. Thus, we took up an environmental project, not an energy one. The main aim of our technology is not production of energy, but obtaining organic fertilizers. Classic biogas plants are designed to break down organic matter quickly and obtain maximum of biogas, but the yielded slime or digestate is always poor in NPKs, macro and micro minerals. We, however, attempt to break down the raw material to lesser extent, which yields less energy but produces a fertilizer richer in nutrients.
A standard biogas plant would yield digestate containing 40 to 50 per cent of nutrients, whereas this figure would be 96 in our case, which is what the soil needs. At the same time, we can build a small-scale plant an average farmer could afford; no European manufacturer can offer anything like that today.
Who created these technologies? Are they local scientists?
They are the specialists employed by our company. We currently hold three patents in Ukraine and have priority in 150 countries. We are determined to open and expand our patents in certain countries of the EU as well as in North America and one of the nations of Asia, perhaps.
Who are your customers? Are they adherents of pure organic fertilizers or farmers that combine Gumino de gallina with mineral fertilizers?
Our customers are, first and foremost, those who use organic fertilizers and position themselves as green agriculturists. Their produce is normally more expensive. They are dreamers and their crop yields are poorer but they set off shortages with higher prices. To my mind, there will never be too many organic farmers. So I see the future rather in the use of combined organic-and-mineral fertilizers. Our main customers in Ukraine, as we see it, should be small farms with circa 120 acres of arable land, gardening and landscaping co-operatives, and private customers (amateur gardeners.) A successful example of land-use is a family gaining shares of 50 to 75 acres and joining them together for agricultural production. This is a favorable case as the producer is interested in preserving and increasing the fertility of soils. These people do think of what they are going to leave for their descendants.
Is hobbyist market also yours?
Certainly. One hundred per cent so.
Are you interested in co-operating with agricultural holdings?
Speaking of large holdings, we have to remember the issue of land ownership in Ukraine. All the land is privately owned in the EU. As for Ukraine, arable lands are private too, but they mostly belong to physical entities. Agricultural holdings are their tenants. For that reason Ukrainian agricultural holdings are not really concerned about preserving soil fertility because every day a tenant’s agreement might be revised. As I have observed, holdings are not interested in the use of organic fertilizers.
We have not seen any demand for organic fertilizers from large agricultural producers.
Do you have any experience with greenhouses and drip watering systems?
Our product is well suited for drip watering. This year, we held a successful experiment on a green farmer’s 10-acre field using biofertilizers in drip watering of strawberries. Comparing to the control plot our fertilizers promoted intense growth and flowering as well as high-quality yield of the plants.
As for the industrial-scale greenhouses, we have not reached those yet. We have been holding tests in a partner’s greenhouse for three years running. We prepared a soil mixture for them and they grew a number of crops on it, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and even roses. They also used our liquid fertilizer for side dressing. Their greenhouse used to have an issue of excessive soil acidity but we managed to rescue their ground with our liquid Gumino de gallina fraction.
We also set an experiment at our production facility as we have a plenty of space for that. We mixed our Gumino de gallina with river sand and planted cucumbers, bell peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, radish, lettuce, and maize in the mixture. All crops gave great yield. Note that we used to pesticides or mineral fertilizers, but the vegetables tasted great, we ate them ourselves. The amount of nitrates was much lower than the maximum permissible level by the law. And what is most important, we preserved the natural taste of the vegetables, just as we remember it from the granny’s kitchen garden. I am certain that the crops grown organically always taste better. We are planning another experiment to confirm these indexes. But it is already evident that Gumino de gallina enables growing agricultural crops in deserts, on sand, or on poor exhausted soils. On a side-note, we work in close contact with Institute of Botany and National University of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. We also have support from five other Ukrainian and European universities.
Where do the raw materials for Gumino de gallina come from?
The base for production of our organic fertilizer is exclusively pure chicken manure with no chemical additives or catalysts. We keep partnership with a poultry farm. We use pure chicken manure and not all kinds of it are suitable for us; only the one from caged poultry.
Are fertilizers made of chicken manure hazardous?
Processing of chicken manure is more complicated than processing the one from swine or cattle. We dared to try the most difficult of tasks. The idea behind our patents is in finding the golden mean; we remove all hazardous stuff out of the manure and preserve whatever is useful. Gumino de gallina organic fertilizer goes through thermal processing without access of air, which excludes preservation of hazardous bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli), helminth eggs, and germinated plant seeds in it. This has been confirmed by the conclusions of profile labs both in Ukraine and the EU.
Antibiotics in the manure is a hot topic. Tell us about this problem.
First of all, we do not work with broiler chicken producers. Egg-laying hens also receive antibiotics but of other kind and in minimum quantity. I spoke to a number of scientists about that. Holding such research in Ukraine is too difficult, so we have not found anyone who could answer this question we are often asked. Nobody knows how much antibiotics are preserved in our products.
You spoke about landscape design. Do you see prospects for yourself in theis segment in Ukraine?
Gumino de gallina made by Integro’s technology may be used for landscaping gardens and parks, planting greenery around landfills, and railway and streetcar tracks. In the EU, measures like this are funded by municipal authorities, and we see prospects for ourselves in this. No one funds landscaping of this kind in Ukraine yet. But I hope that we will arrive at it someday and will make our landscape green and beautiful.
How is the global demand for biofertilizers?
The world is dominated by intensive agriculture; this is reality and not all of us think about soil degrading. The problem of degraded soils in Europe is severe; especially in Spain, Italy, and Greece. The “mineral lobby” has existed in Europe for a long time, but now the issue of soil restoration is really up-to-date and it is given a lot of thought in the EU.
Are there any EU government programs for the rejuvenation of soils with the help of organic compounds?
There are. In early 2016, European Commission presented a draft directive on stimulation of organic fertilizers market. It was included in the general Circular Economy Package adopted in the EU at the end of the previous year. According to the plan, the share of organic fertilizers should amount to at least 30 per cent of the total volume of introduced fertilizers. The European legislature makes agriculturists to incline towards organic-and-mineral complex. We see great opportunities for ourselves and benefit for soils in it.
What is the capacity of your plant?
Today, our factory, located not far from Kyiv, is capable of producing 650 liters of liquid fraction and 700 kilograms of solid fraction a day. Should this capacity become insufficient to satisfy the demand, we are ready to build another production facility. The factory operated 24/7/365; this is not seasonal production.
Where do you plan to build a new facility?
Wherever we see maximum demand, we are ready to build a factory.
We do not sell our technology to others and we see our chief business in the production of fertilizers and waste recycling. If we feel the demand in the south of Ukraine (Odessa, Kherson, or Mykolaiv oblasts), we shall build a factory there. We also consider the possibility of building ones in Spain, Israel, and Cyprus. It will be built by Ukrainian specialists.
What are the opportunities for Integro to expand its business in Europe?
We want to spend a lion’s share of our effort in our home country. We live in Ukraine and we want to work here.
If you come to any European company, you will see that Europeans prefer building large factories. Add to this the fact that the facility will produce biofertilizers, not energy, and no one will go for it.
Yet, I see no planned profitability of our business in Ukraine so far. The EU is a different story. They have indicative prices for organic fertilizers and a well-developed market of organic fertilizers. It is protected and even subsidized in certain countries. Organic corners are a common feature in European stores. It is hard to find an “eco-nook” in our supermarkets, if at all possible.
Cyprus, Israel, Arabian Peninsula (a project of greenery planting in the desert) are our dreams.
In Ukraine, we have to explain to farmers how our fertilizers differ from simple manure or compost. In Europe, it is easier to talk about biofertilizers; they understand better and they have wishes and needs.
What were your company’s sales volumes in 2016?
We are at the beginning of the road and so far we only have addresses a few to agricultural producers. In May 2016, we have reached the level of being able to offer our product to someone. Before that we spent 4 years doing research and development work in closed conditions without going out in the market. We fine-tuned ratios and dosages. In May 2016, we came to our first customer and suggested that they should try our fertilizers. Now we are involved in a n experiment with winter crops; a partner company allocated about 120 acres or arable land to us for trying our technology; the remaining 500 acres will be sowed with winter crops by the standard technology. The results of this experiment are expected in the next year.
We already have a stock of products that we hope to sell towards the harvest of 2017. Thrifty farmers buy their fertilizers in December. Purchases in February and March grow to mass scale. So we are ready for that and we work hard in that direction.
How do you supply your energy?
The energy of biogas is a byproduct of our process and we use it to heat our own factory. If we happen to produce a surplus of it, we shall build a greenhouse at our site. There is a possibility to pump biogas into conventional gas bottles, but we have not tried it yet.
What features of Ukrainian legislation do you consider beneficial for promoting organic fertilizers?
On the 7th of April 2015, Ukraine adopted the Law On Byproducts of Animal Origin Not Destined for Human Consumption.
From now on, it is forbidden to introduce husbandry waste into soil without sterilization and processing. This law should change the agriculturists’ attitude towards the market of biofertilizers. The activities of Integro are one of the mechanisms to implement this law. We consider it a profile law for ourselves and a chance to promote our technology and philosophy in Ukraine, because we offer on of the ways to fully recycle husbandry waste and produce high-quality fertilizers out of it.
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