In early 2014 The Business Exchange Magazine for Swindon and Wiltshire interviewed Henry Madders, Managing Director of local family business Citadel Environmental Solutions.
The firm which operates out of Grittleton near Chippenham manufactures and distributes Biocat+ OSAA. This innovative product harnesses the power of biostimulants and bacteriophages ('phages'), to optimise plant performance and sustainably boost crop productivity, reducing reliance on conventional fertilizers and chemicals. We reconnect with Henry to delve into his journey over the last decade, exploring the significant changes that have reshaped his business.
How has Citadel Environmental Solutions evolved since we last spoke to you?
In the last 10 years, we've been doing a lot of research and development at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, which is a Government funded institution that works on agricultural and horticultural technologies. We've also been working with Team Ag, which has involved field trials, test and data analysis relating to our product and how it works within the agricultural growing seasons.
But perhaps most significantly, we've also managed to condense our product into a concentrate. Previously (per hectare) you would have needed 20,000 litres of Biocat+ OSAA - but now you only need 2 litres!
This is better for the environment and is also more economically viable for farmers who can now just put our concentrate product into their spraying systems.
Moreover, the concentrate has enabled us to go from not only working in the horticultural industry but also in the agricultural industry. So it's opened huge opportunities for us.
What else has changed?
Originally we needed to brew our biostimulant onsite wherever we were dosing it. We would need to invest say £5,000 into a bit of kit to put on to a customer's farm to make the product, but now we make it all in our factory in the UK, and we can ship it all around the country very economically. This means that instead of less than 1% of the market being able to access the product, the whole market can now access it.
We've also gone more down the Horti/Agri route in the last few years and have got a new e-commerce website: www.cb-biostimulant.com - dedicated to it. Meanwhile, Citadel-Biocat.com handles the livestock/AD/waste water treatment side of things.
What's remained the same?
Not much! We're still getting the same great results - and I'm still here! Apart from that the whole company has pretty much changed.
What's been the main barrier for growth?
Education around the subject and igniting change. It's always hard to get people to change from a product that they are used to but biostimulants really are the future. The traditional chemicals used in farming are not particularly good. You never truly own the land, you are the custodian of it, and we must do all that we can to preserve its health for future generations.
What's been the biggest challenge?
In the last ten years, we've been bubbling along quite nicely but no one was really prepared to talk about biostimulants. But now they are very much a focal point of farming and arable land, so I think the biggest challenge has been making sure that people reciprocate by sharing and using this sort of information.
What have been the key lessons you've learnt?
We've always seen that our product visually can increase the yield, but it's been interesting to see what goes on beneath the ground in the soil structure and the root systems. The biggest learnings have come from our partnership with the John Inness Centre which has enabled us to understand what makes a plant grow bigger and healthier. Also learning about the bacterial phages has been fascinating - the world would be covered in slime if we didn't have them, so they are a phenomenal species!
Given that you trade internationally, how did Covid and Brexit affect the business?
During Covid, I couldn't travel and see farmers because people weren't keen on meeting face-to-face. It also had a massive impact on growing the business overseas.
In terms of Brexit, it's probably assisted us if anything, because of the changes to the area based support subsidies that farmers used to rely on. Things have now pivoted to enhance the environmental focus on land management and farmers are now having to go out and find alternative products to help them become more profitable.
There are many different facets to your business including supply chain and materials etc. Has the war in Ukraine had an impact on any of this?
At the John Innes Centre, we've learnt that we can reduce the amount of nitrogen farmers need to put on their land, because the phages enable the soil to encapsulate the nitrogen and slow release the nitrate into the crop. With the price of fertilizer going though the roof because of the Ukraine war, our product could benefit farmers moving forward, and therefore us as well.
Has the Government's Build Back Greener Agenda impacted on the business?
Biocat+ OSAA enables the soil to get rid of all its bad bacteria, so it will only assist rural life in getting back to its natural state without have to rely on chemicals. Ultimately the green agenda will be a positive thing for us, especially when concerning water. If we can reduce the amount of nitrogen used by 25 per cent (60 per cent of it either evaporates or gets washed into the waterways) then that would have a huge impact on the environment and air quality.
Where do you see Citadel a decade from now?
We would like to organically grow the business over the next ten years to have a significant share in the biostimulant sectors of both the Agricultural and Horticultural UK markets.