Building on multiple projects and several years of work together, International Zeolite Corp. (IZ) and Niagara College’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC) have announced a formal agreement that will catapult the research relationship to new heights. Along the way, they plan to contribute to methods of increasing food production and therefore the ability to feed more people.
Under the terms of the agreement, Niagara College will provide priority and support for research projects in relationship to IZ’s proprietary grow system NEREA®, which will be carried out by HESIC. Niagara College will provide ongoing access to resources, staff, and space to support these research projects. The College will also work with IZ to explore prospective advanced manufacturing, business and commercialization projects and alignments, as opportunities may arise. Further, Niagara College will support the efforts of IZ in their establishment of the company’s new production facility in the Niagara region.
You may be asking yourself… how did we get to this exciting point in this partnership? Mark Pearlman, president, and chief operating officer of IZ, can tell you a few stories about this journey.
Several years ago, Mark was vice-chair of the Ontario Food Terminal, and he was investigating the use of zeolite, which is a mineral that’s mined for its water and nutrient holding capabilities, to help with growing when used as a soil amendment.
During that investigation, he was connected with International Zeolite Corp., a company who had a number of partnerships with a group of Cuban scientists who were working with this mineral.
Those researchers and others from the University of Havana developed a proprietary way to embed all the nutrients necessary for plant growth right into the zeolite, a grow system branded as NEREA®.
The Cuban studies demonstrated several benefits to the use of NEREA®, including an increased crop. This meant a) the time to harvest was significantly reduced compared to conventional methods; b) it made for a better quality, larger plant; and c) growers were using significantly less fertilizer than conventional methods.
Mark was amazed by this innovation but knew that the problem was that no one in North America knew about this. He needed a connection in North America to work with to help validate whether the product did exactly what they said it did.
“It’s been an absolutely incredible partnership with the College, because we are able to collaborate with the College to validate our NEREA® grow system, learn from the College about growers and their approach to horticulture, and have a legitimate horticultural research and development group as a ‘branch’ of our team.” – Mark Pearlman, President, and Chief Operating Officer.
NC and Mark know that growers are unique; they aren’t going to change the way they grow without understanding that the product they are being asked to use has been fully vetted and validated.
This is where the first connection between Mark (who had begun working with IZ) and Niagara College began. For IZ, the partnership with Niagara College became a priority because they wanted to have strong research to support their product.
“It’s been an absolutely incredible partnership with the College because we are able to collaborate with the College to validate our NEREA® grow system, learn from the College about growers and their approach to agriculture, and have a legitimate agricultural research and development group as a ‘branch’ of our team,” said Pearlman.
The NC team is studying NEREA®, IZ’s propriety on-demand grow system designed for all agricultural sectors: nurseries, greenhouses, horticultural growers, and outdoor growers. It imbeds into zeolite particles all the macronutrients and micronutrients needed by plants to grow effectively and healthy. It is a demand-driven system that allows plants to receive nutrients based on their need and at the time the plant needs it. Proven in Cuban trials and validation studies, the NEREA® grow system decreases crop time, resulting in additional crops for growers thus increasing grower ROI; reduces the overall requirements for fertilizer by up to 80%, resulting in much lower input costs for growers; and reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) significantly through the very reduction of fertilizer consumption.
“Niagara College is recognized as one of Canada’s top research College institutions. They are in the process of evaluating our NEREA® grow system, as well as providing us with recommended solutions supporting rapid adoption of our products and solutions by growers in the horticultural segment. We have gained incredible competitive advantage through our partnership with HESIC. This group takes research and development and makes it practical, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the magic of this unique partnership,” says Pearlman.
For NC, this partnership made perfect sense. “HESIC prides itself on creating strong, impactful research relationships like the one we have with International Zeolite Corp. (IZ). At Niagara College, we provide organizations with research solutions that help to evaluate innovations and move their products toward commercialization. We’re excited to continue our partnership with IZ, and this new agreement will enable even more innovative research,” says Kimberley Cathline, HESIC research program manager.
With this MOU in place, IZ is ramping things up. Plans are ongoing to open a manufacturing facility in Niagara, commercialize and begin product development and production. “This is a unique paradigm shift. We’re asking growers to adopt a new growing methodology because we have a growing system that can significantly help them. It can help reduce greenhouse gases, increase yields, and reduce their costs. And we can’t wait to get this product on the market,” said Pearlman.
Not to mention, IZ always has its eye on the impressive students who are graduating from horticulture and greenhouse programs at the College. “We have a goal to take students from NC programs and hire them to work for IZ to become our next leaders to help us bring NEREA® to market over the next several years,” said Pearlman.
This partnership is a win-win-win. It benefits IZ, allows the College to conduct important research, and allows students the experience to work on client projects that have real-world prospective job opportunities. And Pearlman’s hope is that this partnership will help validate a product that is going to help growers grow more fruit and vegetables, and therefore feed more people around the world.
This article and photo was provided by Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.