A FERTILISER made using 100 per cent Australian low grade wool?
It may sound like an odd science experiment, but Verigrow is packed with amino acids that are perfect for growing healthy plants and crops.
The all-purpose fertiliser and soil improver, made by WA-based company Veratin, was more than 10 years in the making with the product initially developed in 2016 before evolving further and finally being made commercially available in October 2019.
Wool, made from the protein keratin, is a sustainable and rich source of amino acids which have numerous benefits for plant, micro-organism and soil health.
Veratin managing director Ramiz Boulos said amino acids were the building blocks of life.
"Amino acids help plants combat stress, improve flowering, increase root mass, activate natural defence mechanisms in plants and enhance photosynthesis by increasing the chlorophyll concentration," Dr Boulos said.
"They also promote nutrient absorption and stimulate the essential metabolic activities in the plant, plus most amino acids are also charged, enabling them to attract water molecules and therefore help with water retention.
"Amino acids are also valuable feedstock for micro-organisms and are biodegradable via natural pathways."
They also work to improve the beneficial microflora in various ways, such as by strengthening the outer walls, allowing them to withstand harsh conditions.
Happier, stronger microbial colonies help produce better nutrient uptake, as well as a more extensive and healthier root system that can fight diseases and maintain effectiveness in adverse environmental conditions.
Dr Boulos said it took energy for plants to synthesise the amino acids required to create those cells using primarily nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) from fertilisers.
"This happens either directly by incorporating such elements in the amino acid structure or indirectly by exploiting such elements to activate enzymes or building the energy currency of cells," he said.
"The presence of amino acids in Verigrow therefore negates the need for high levels of NPK fertilisers.
"That provides plants with supplementary amino acids to save plants energy that they can utilise elsewhere, which helps maintain not only vigorous growth but pest and disease resistance as well."
The product is sold in a number of sizes - one litre, 5L 20L, 200L and 1000L - and while home gardens have been the main clientele so far, it has also been sold directly to local councils and commercial farms, with one broadacre farm from Katanning currently using it.
Having been on the market for just over two years, Verigrow is relatively new but has seen growth and larger volumes going out the door.
The hope is that more broadacre farmers will jump onboard as the poor soils in the Wheatbelt are where Dr Boulos believes Verigrow will make the most difference.
"I'm aware of the price sensitive nature of products in the broadacre market and we will try to bring the cost of the product down as economies of scale come into effect," he said.
"We sell the 1000L for $4800 retail, that would do 10L to 40L of concentrate per hectare, which equates to about $40 to $80 per hectare and we believe is competitive given farmers would then not need to apply other products to the crop.
"However, it comes down to the farmer and whether they're willing to invest in something that will help their crops, but also their soils which is the future of sustainable farming."
Veratin recently went public and is in the final stages of listing, which should happen before the end of the year.
For a long time the company has been a one-man operation, so the capital raised from the listing will allow it to have the manpower to grow the business.
That includes employing a chief scientific officer who will take on board the research and development (R&D) of other products that the company is looking to commercialise.
"We're trying to develop a way to extract the pure amino acid from the wool which could be used in food supplements, pharmaceuticals or cosmetics," Dr Boulos said.
"We've also recently developed a biodegradable polymer which Veratin has licensed the intellectual property for.
"The focus of that is on developing biodegradable plant pots with the idea being that people could bury the plant with the pot and it degrades and turns into plant food."
Want weekly news highlights delivered to your inbox? Sign up to the Farm Weekly newsletter.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.