Volac has officially opened a new £5 million plant in South Wales to manufacture its Ecosyl branded range of silage additives.
Welsh deputy agriculture minister Rebecca Evans performed the ceremony at the factory in Port Talbot last week, in front of an audience of suppliers and trade customers from the UK and overseas.
Volac has had a presence in Port Talbot since 1990, when it opened its first fermentation facility to provide the freeze-dried bacterial silage additive marketed under the Agros brand. Output grew to a volume sufficient to treat around a million tonnes of silage per annum by the year 2000, whereupon a further £250,000 was invested to increase production capacity for the company’s own brands as well as enabling third party toll manufacture for the first time. Another decade on, and the plant was close to its 3.6m tonnes of treated product capacity.
A subsequent approach from Ecosyl – then based in North Yorkshire – for Volac to make its MTD1 bacteria (the company relied on toll manufacturers for all its production) led to Volac acquiring the business in 2012. This enabled Volac to consolidate silage additive production at Port Talbot in a significantly extended and upgraded plant suitable for both the Ecosyl and Agros ranges. The new factory can produce enough product to treat 15m tonnes of forage annually for domestic and export markets.
Managing director of Volac David Neville estimates that about 30m tonnes of forage is made in the UK each year, of which around one-third is treated with additive, a market sector worth around £12 million annually. So there is great potential to increase the volume treated, as well as growing the company’s share of the existing treated share by offering better products, he says.
Volac aims to improve the profitability of farmed ruminant animal systems through better silage yield and quality, emphasises Mr Neville. While average UK dairy herd milk yields have risen over the last decade, the average yield from forage has been stubbornly static at 2,500 litres. Therefore there is great potential to reduce dry matter losses from fermented forage and minimise feed value loss through better aerobic stability.
The latest expansion uses a continuous fermentation process, technically much more complex than the previous batch production, but with a greater output. The investment includes new freeze drying, packing and storage facilities and a conference centre. In addition, there are new R&D laboratories, with a pilot fermentation plant and mini silos to test existing and new additives. It is the first time that the company’s production and R&D have been side by side.
The improved R&D resources mean that Volac can carry out molecular biology level analyses of its microbes in order to improve their efficiency and capability. Particular aims are to improve fermentation; the conservation of nutrients and the aerobic stability of silages. Volac is also partnering with a number of external organisations in its R&D programme, including CEDAR and IBERS in the UK, the nearby University of Swansea and bodies in the US, Germany, Israel and Japan.
The first fruit of this research is Ecocool – a combination of Ecosyl and Volac microbe strains in a low volume formulation designed to control the aerobic spoilage of conserved forages. The product is suitable for ultralow volume applications, while its reduced bulk makes it more efficient to export.
Ongoing advances in molecular genetics means that Volac can develop products that increase the efficiency of microbial action in forage conservation. But, as the products become more effective, the challenge is to educate users in applying them effectively. This means attention to detail – compacting the clamp properly, ensuring it is forage is securely sheeted to exclude the air and that products are sourced in advance rather than at the last moment.
“The new R&D laboratory is equipped with the latest microbiological and molecular biology capabilities to identify new bacterial strains which ultimately will make better silage,” says R&D manager Phil Jones. “Our researchers all have the opportunity to understand how these strains offer animal performance benefits and also to isolate and develop new strains to enable all livestock farmers to improve their efficiency.
“Whilst we create new export opportunities, we also look forward to encouraging collaborative relationships with researchers in Wales and universities worldwide, as we develop the Port Talbot facility as a site of global biotech excellence,” he concludes.