Turn ‘crap’, raw material residues that no one knows how to use, into a “more than optimal” fertilizer for our fields. This is the arduous mission carried out by the Spanish company Fertinagro Biotech. “Everything no one can take advantage of is sent to us, especially waste that no one else can reuse, andwe have to look for its value as fertilizer. We are called a lot of European projects to take the crap, because in the circular economy everything has to be well closed and we, in the end, end up taking 80% of the material,” says Ignasi Salaet, deputy director of R&D&I.
Fertinagro currently participates in five European projects “all related to the circular economy and valorization” of products such as cereal waste, potatoes, tomatoes… universities, research centres and companies process these by-products to generate substances that can take advantage of the food or cosmetics industry,among others. “But what they can extract from this type of raw materials represents 15-20%, and there is 80% of the material that is still there and we look for how to transform it into a fertilizer”,always thinking about how it can benefit the final farmer, Salaet explains to INNOVATORS.
And this goal is more than rooted in its business philosophy, because Fertinagro Biotech, of the Turolean group Tervalis,is a firm founded by farmers and its developments always have in mind the functionality of the product, that is, “how they will help the final farmer, how to achieve maximum efficiency in its use,how to manage to use less product to obtain the same or better results”.
In its beginnings, it was a company dedicated to commercializing manure, but over the years it made the leap to chemical fertilization. And this branch, Salaet explains, is a world of commodities within the sector, as you go on to compete globally and, ultimately, “you are at the mercy of others because the price of the raw material is not marked by you”. Hence the need to create a strong R&D area,which already has 37 national and international patents when generating ad hoc products for the agricultural sector. “By having to buy the raw materials to produce, the only space for innovation is to improve the efficiency” of chemical fertilizer.
“The challenge is to continue developing products that the farmer considers optimal, because it is not the same to apply or manage 500 kg of a fertilizer that 50 kg, nor leaves the same footprint” in the environment and this is what this Aragonese firm pursues in its R&D laboratories. In fact, Salaet believes that Fertinagro’s benefit is in R&D because “our core remains to create more efficient products so as not to depend on the global market”.
And how to achieve these efficient products for the farmer? The answer is in what we now all know as ‘circular economy’, which has been implementing this Turolense firm since its inception, before this concept was trending. “We are not producers of chemicals, so we have always tried to look for sources of raw material that could act as fertilizer and that, until then, did not have a use.” In short, they manage to value a raw material “by increasing its efficiency as fertilizer, but instead of using a chemical produced through synthesis, use a particular raw material, such as a puree.”
Salaet underlines, at this point, the Fertimanure project,a system developed, and patented, to improve the physical-chemical and biological characteristics of the puree by transforming it into a balanced fertilizer made to measure that can be applied by fertigation and that allows to modify its properties in real time depending on the soil, the crop and its stage of development.
Another of its patents focuses on the development of a microbial stimulation fertilizer technology that enhances the biological fixation of environmental nitrogen in the soil. Thanks to its technology, this new fertilizer composition includes essential data to fix nitrogen. In particular, he explains, this patent is part of a large family of developments that aims to improve the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizers by reducing nitrogen losses in the soil in order to reduce the doses required by the crop.