Go-to-market research for new agriculture product

Researchers Christine George and Derek Schulze with AETIC are shown evaluating the performance of hydrangeas at Kamps Hydrangea farm in Vineland. These blue-flagged hydrangeas have been amended with varying levels of zeolite as part of a trial with International Zeolite Corp. 

Zeolite is one of nature’s more multifaceted minerals. With its microporous honeycomb structure, the volcanic mineral acts as both a natural filter used in water and air purification and an absorbent utilized by the agriculture industry to modulate water and nutrients.

Toronto-based International Zeolite Corp., which operates its own zeolite mine in British Columbia, is a supplier and marketer of natural zeolite and zeolite-infused products for environmental, livestock and agriculture industries.

International Zeolite’s newest venture entails creating a Canadian and North American market for the Cuban product Nerea, a proprietary, environmentally friendly technology that embeds nutrients directly into the zeolite. According to the University of Havana Foundation research, when used as a substrate or a soil amendment in agriculture, Nerea produces higher yields of crops and uses less water.

The company has partnered with Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division to conduct two equally significant research projects. One project comprises a comprehensive market analysis of the greenhouse environment in Canada to determine the industry where Nerea fits best. The other involves hands-on trials to test and validate the product’s technical performance.

“The challenges are to verify that the benefits obtained in Cuba can be replicated in Canadian conditions,” explains Ray Paquette, CEO, International Zeolite, “and also to determine how to promote commercial adoption of Nerea-based substrates and soil-based media.”

If validated, Paquette says the benefit to southern Ontario is that growers will gain access to an innovative technology that substantially improves greenhouse production systems’ environmental performance while enabling yields and costs of production that are competitive with existing production systems.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional. The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”
~ Ray Paquette, International Zeolite

In addition to potentially contributing to enhanced plant productivity, and therefore grower profitability, Nerea differs from conventional greenhouse hydroponic systems, says Paquette, in that the plants access the nutrients and water only as they are required, rather than continual cycling of soluble nutrients.

“This product has significant potential to improve greenhouse agriculture in southern Ontario in the production of vegetables, berries and floriculture,” adds Paquette.

Researchers from R&I’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team took up the challenge of understanding the markets and analyze where the company could potentially focus on commercialization.

Throughout the project, the BCS team performed comprehensive research on a number of markets in the Canadian greenhouse industry: horticulture, floriculture, organic, tropical plant and vertical indoor farm production.

The research experts also provided an extensive breakdown of the substrate industry, including the materials used in substrates, their various properties and common uses. An analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on these industries was completed to better understand relevant trends in the industry.

Results of the market research suggest Nerea would be an ideal candidate for growing lettuce in the greenhouse hydroponic market, a soil amendment within the horticultural industry, and also as a retail plant or home-growing solution.

“Working with the Business & Commercialization research team has been both a pleasure and professional,” says Paquette. “The team was great, and their market research report is a valued guideline.”

International Zeolite is also currently engaged with R&I’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre for an applied research project to conduct trials of Nerea.

Both projects have received funding through the Niagara College-led Greenhouse Technology Network (GTN), through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.