Broker sees business in manure enricher

Together with his father, Andries Huisman ran a successful brokerage in Gorredijk. Now he is a surprising newcomer to the agricultural sector with his company FarMin, which supplies farmers with a binder to turn their own manure into a sustainable nutrient fertilizer. An additional benefit is the greatly reduced odor pollution, which makes the public look differently at manure spreading farmers.

The reason for his career switch is sad but at the same time special. 'My father had been suffering from Alzheimer's for some time when he died of cardiac arrest,' Andries says. 'At the UMCG they told us that magnesium deficiency had played tricks on his disease. Then I started reading about magnesium and discovered that it is a forgotten but very valuable element. Then I found out that you can make your own struvite with magnesium chloride, an excellent alternative to fertilizer. I immediately found it interesting, started looking into it further, saw a gap in the market and jumped in.

Those around him declared him crazy at first. Why give up a successful brokerage for an uncertain new business in the agricultural sector? 'My motivation is the importance of healthy food,' explains the entrepreneur. 'With my product I indirectly contribute to that. With magnesium chloride, farmers can convert their own manure into struvite. This fertilizer contributes to grass with higher nutritional value and thus healthier roughage for cows. Farmers save on both artificial fertilizer and concentrate when they add magnesium chloride FarMin-g to their manure and there is much less odor nuisance. All benefits I believed in from the start.

Exclusive rights

Andries buys the magnesium chloride from Nedmag in Veendam, a company that extracts magnesium salt from the North Groningen soil for applications in industry, energy, food and health. 'They also saw potential in my idea to apply the liquid in agriculture for struvite. I managed to get the exclusive rights to purchase magnesium chloride for agricultural purposes. My added value is in the proper administration of the product, because that is where the success of its operation lies. I map farmers' manure storage and have developed a special calculation program for determining the correct dosage.'

Why farmers didn't think of this themselves? 'Not having an agricultural background has helped me think outside the box,' Andries believes. 'The sector itself has had to deal with so many regulations and setbacks that it is difficult to see alternative solutions. On the one hand, I started listening very carefully to where the bottlenecks are, and on the other, I started telling the story of this product through cold acquisition. And that has led in recent years to the first 150 customers and sales of 1,000 to 1,500 tons of liquid FarMin-g. The great thing is that the story is only getting more solid. Because the fanfare does its job well when farmers experience the benefits in practice.'

Clean business

Making better use of manure is currently one of the biggest challenges facing the agricultural sector. With FarMin, Andries expects to contribute to the nitrogen problem, but also to a more positive image of farmers. 'Because of the smell of manure, as a farmer you make a false start in the environment. Consumers make the association with pollution because of the smell. My product is a binding agent for the ammonium and phosphate that are naturally present in manure, and because of that binding, the strong smell reduces considerably. That gives a very different feeling when spreading manure, both for the farmers themselves and the people living in the immediate vicinity.'

'In the province of Groningen, I have regular discussions with parties about how this product can be significant in solving the nitrogen problem,' Andries says. 'That includes the NOM, as a co-shareholder of Nedmag. Meanwhile, I am setting up another company, in which we are investigating how the use of clay from the Wadden Sea can contribute to the further reduction of artificial fertilizer. At FarMin, meanwhile, the growth continues. Until now I was doing it alone, but I already have two guys lined up to handle further growth in the near future. The goal is to supply at least five thousand Dutch farmers within another four or five years.'

Success Formula

His focus is on the Netherlands for now, but the pioneering Andries expects his formula to catch on abroad as well. 'In October I was at the World Dairy Expo in America, where I joined the Holland Dairy Valley stand through NOM. That was an initial exploration of the international market and it turns out that in America the organic quality of the grass leaves much to be desired. There is also potential there for successful application of FarMin-g, because magnesium and chloride contribute positively to the resilience and nutritional value of the plant.'

'But first plenty to do in my own country,' Andries concludes. 'Here in the north I've got things pretty much up and running and soon I'm going to give my talk to the Province of Brabant, where the nitrogen issue is also fierce. With parties like Nedmag and the NOM in the rear, plus of course the first 150 satisfied farmers, the FarMin formula is increasingly convincing. The great thing is that I enjoy working on it every day. It was a big leap of faith, but I had to try it. My father always said: boy, if you can directly or indirectly mean something for healthy food, then you have to go for it. And I do.

View the website of FarMin