Increasingly involved in Specialities for Horticulture

12 June 2014
Prayon gamme produit horticulture

Headquartered in Belgium, the Prayon Group specializes in phosphate chemicals and operates production sites in Belgium with two sites at Engis and Puurs, in France - one site at Les Roches de Condrieu, and the United States with one site in Augusta, Georgia. Phosphates being a major crop nutrient and Prayon being a major actor in the phosphate technology worldwide, the company naturally got involved in supplying high quality grades of MAP and MKP to manufacturers of Water Soluble Fertilizers around the world. Today the company goes a step further with the creation of the Hortipray® brand that comprises of traditional MAP and MKP grades but also and more importantly of special grades of the same products and novelties such as the micronutri range associating trace elements to Polyphosphates. With one aim: directly reaching the distributors gate with innovative finished products without competing with their traditional customers for raw materials. New Ag International went for an interview with the management of Prayon, a company with a 830 million Euros turnover whose low profile in communication until now has been as impressive as its high reputation for the quality of the products it manufactures!

OWNED EQUALLY BY OCP SA

(Morocco) and the Wallonia Regional Investment Company (SRIW, Belgium), Prayon manufactures and distributes a wide range of purified phosphoric acids, phosphate salts and fluorine products geared towards the food and fertilizer sectors, and for many different industrial applications (water, glass, metal, ceramics, and so on). Through beLife (a joint venture with Umicore), Prayon also manufactures lithium iron phosphate, a cathode material used in hybrid and electric vehicle batteries as well as stationary applications. The Prayon products are chiefly used as primary materials in the manufacture of end products. With its wide range of commercial subsidiaries, agents and distributors, Prayon serves a global customer base through a sales and service organization that spans the globe, however with Europe still representing more than 70% of the total turnover.

A LONG TRADITION IN THE PRODUCTION OF MAP AND MKP AND A SUBSTANTIAL SHARE OF THE EUROPEAN MARKET

Prayon-MAPPrayon MKPMAP has been produced by Prayon for over 45 years at the Engis plant in Belgium. Production capacity is over 60,000 mt/year. Hortipray® MAP is produced also in a version branded Hortipray® MAP anticalc, with same nutrients analysis but with unique feature that improves its performance under hard-water conditions, by preventing the formation of insoluble carbonates and phosphates in the irrigation lines, that disturb the flowing and clogs the pipes and the drippers. Hortipray® MAP features 50% of the European specialty-MAP marketplace. Similarly, MKP has been produced by Prayon for over 25 years at the Puurs plant in Belgium. Production capacity is 25,000 mt/y. Hortipray® MKP features 25-30% of the European specialty-MKP marketplace. Hortipray® MKP anticalc functions similarly to Hortipray® MAP anticalc. Pbooster is also a newly developed product that combines ortho and polyphosphates to enhance growthand also to avoid clogging of pipes. The polyphosphate content of Pbooster is higher than for anticalc, boosting the P availability more than anticalc which has clearly been developed for hard water areas to keep irrigation systems clean and reduce cleaning with acids.

Prayon's fertilizers are characterized by extremely high levels of purity and solubility. The high purity of MKP is ensured by Prayphos5, known as Prayon’s high quality purified phosphoric acid (H3PO4), which is combined with potassium hydroxide (KOH) through a crystallization process. With MAP, it is Prayphos P5 (H3PO4) combined with ammonia (NH3) which gives NH4H2PO4; the pure water-soluble MAP. It has to be said that a crystallisation is a purification, so the impurities are taken out by the crystallisation process from all the raw materials. Last but not least, Prayon's water-soluble fertilizers contain up to 10 times less sodium than other fertilizers. Prayon has gained a true understanding of the specific requirements of growers. Based on this expertise, the Group is now in a strong position to offer a wide product range and to develop new products for the horticulture market. And it has started by combining micronutrients with polyphosphates.


AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH: COMBINING MICRONUTRIENTS WITH POLYPHOSPHATES

Sceau Micronutri FePrayon has recently patented and launched an innovative fertilizer that combines iron and multiple polyphosphates, and thereby provides an excellent alternative to iron chelates, according to a company’s spokesman. From the 1960s right up to the present day, iron has only been available in the form of chelates for soilless cropping. Hortipray® micronutri Fe presents highly effective iron uptake by plants, even under fluctuating pH levels. In normal growing season the pH of the substrate can fluctuate. Trials in Prayon R&D department have shown the reversibility in soluble iron when micronutri Fe is used. When pH increases, iron becomes insoluble or precipitates and can be lost for the plant. When pH decreases again to a normal level, iron can become again completely available to the plant when micronutri Fe is used. According to Prayon, the difference is significant compared to standard Fe-DTPA. Says Product Manager Kurt Verhelst: “Micronutri Fe has the following main benefits: Efficient iron fertilizer compared to standard chelates; Pure fertilizer : only contains nutrients P, K, Fe; Iron availability is reversible when pH is fluctuating and/or corrected; preventive action against clogging of drippers. By using a separate C tank a correct and easier dosage. And two years of trials have proved efficiency in soilless grown crops such as tomato, cucumber and strawberry”. Recent trials also show the possibilities in soil grown crops and have clearly shown extra advantages towards nutrient availability, uptake and translocation in the plant. The most recent trial, just finished end of 2014 and conducted in Wageningen University (WUR) in the Netherlands, showed clear evidence that with Hortipray micronutri Fe the translocation of calcium in the plant is significantly better than plants treated with chelates. Prayon has developed an easy-to-use online calculation tool, available at a dedicated web page. The user simply has to choose the iron used and fill in the quantities of his standard composition. The application will then automatically calculate how much Hortipray® micronutri Fe he needs to use and which fertilizers require modification. With these modifications, the software can calculate the new fertilizer recipe and the grower will be giving the same quantity of nutrients as in his original recipe.

HORTICULTURE: A STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT AXIS ALSO SUPPORTED BY INCREASED ACCESS TO KEY RAW MATERIALS

Horticulture is a strategic development axis for Prayon. Its Hortipray® product range today covers 50% of customer needs in terms of volumes. Hortipray® micronutri Fe is the first product of its kind and Prayon will continue to develop its range by proposing formulations based on the other micronutrients. The company is also preparing itself to the upcoming phosphate situation by having signed with Moroccan OCP (50% shareholder of Prayon) an exclusive licensing agreement, whereby OCP will use the Prayon MAP production technology in their new plant, to be erected at Jorf Lafsar, with a production capacity of 100 KMT/Y, as of 2017, which Prayon will in turn market around the world, therefore adding substantial strength to its portfolio that already includes the marketing and distribution of the full production in Europe and the Middle East of the Potassium Nitrate produced by the Kemapco plant in Aqaba (Jordan), using the Kemira process that has had the reputation of giving the best end-product in terms of purity and solubility. Prayon's technical expertise is acknowledged and used worldwide, even by competitors. 50% of phosphoric acid production sites in the world are manufacturing under licence from Prayon and use equipment developed by the company! With the newly developed strategy there is no doubt that the Prayon flag will become increasingly visible in the market itself at every corner of the world where horticulture is picking up !

An Interview with...

VALÉRIE RENARD, SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, AND KURT VERHELST, SENIOR PRODUCT MANAGER, PRAYON SA

Valérie Renard     KURT VERHELST

After three years of stable business with a total turnover of about 830 million Euros, have the 2014 figures shown an increase for the Prayon Group? 

Valérie Renard (VR): In 2014 our turnover was similar to previous years. We focused on consolidation and optimization of our organization and processes. We are also preparing the future with the introduction of our recently developed products for which a long approval process is needed, sometimes reaching 12 months or more.

Through your various business units, you have a presence in about 100 countries but at the same time Europe (more than 70% of turnover) and North America (more than 15%) represent the bulk of your sales. In which other regions are you planning to substantially increase your presence and establish the drivers of your growth?

VR: Prayon’s strategy is to remain strong in our traditional zone of influence (Europe) and to expand in growing markets: the Americas and Asia. A new strategy defining our targets in these zones is under consolidation.

Fertilizers represent about 10% of your turnover at the moment. Does this total include the sales of Potassium Nitrate from Kemapco or is this business based on commission, i.e. not having a substantial impact of the turnover?

Kurt Verhelst (KV): Yes, this total includes the sales of potassium nitrate from Kemapco. More precisely, fertilizers represent between 10 and 15% of our current turnover, and the sales of potassium nitrate clearly have a reasonable impact on our turnover Europe is today our main market and we have the exclusivity in Europe for Kemapco’s product. This product is important to complete our hortipray® range for which we have a good recognition on the market. More and more each year, this range creates higher value for Prayon. We have recently introduced our new intelligent fertilizer, called micronutri Fe; other developments will follow to widen further our hortipray® range.

Some years ago, Prayon started to embark in the manufacturing of its own line of soluble NPKs for use in professional horticulture. Right? If so, what made you retreat from this business segment, except for the general consumers market, and concentrate mainly on the straight Phosphate products such as MAP and MKP for professional growers?

KV: Some years ago, Prayon defined water-soluble NPK fertilizers as a strong potential development area. We decided to complete our range with NPK formulations before we noticed that this move led to competition with our own customers. This is not the way we want to build business. Since then, we have reviewed our strategy, optimized our straights portfolio (which are recognized for their very high quality) and introduced sustainable novelties such as our micronutri Fe, and anticalc to avoid clogging.

Are you manufacturing in-house the Calcium Nitrate that is sold under the Hortipray® brand?

KV: No, we are not manufacturing calcium nitrate. We have trading activities as this is a small business next to our main fertilizers. This product is sold to only some key customers in some dedicated areas.

With the micronutri Fe product, you have entered a new field. Do you intend to add other products to this line, associating other micronutrients to polyphosphates?

KV: Yes, we intend to introduce a new product to be called Hortipray Micromix that combines the micronutri Fe technology with all trace elements (zinc, manganese, copper, boron, molybdenum, etc.) and also secondary nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. All these additional novelties are already covered by our patent and will be available in different ratios. New tests and experiences show that micronutri Fe and the future developments have not yet revealed all their functionalities. We are still discovering very interesting advantages that will please the horticulture world. The various trials demonstrate good results. Above all, our products can increase the uptake and translocation in the plant of different elements, resulting in higher yield and better water and fertilizer use efficiency. An important next step will be the extension of the hortipray® micronutri range with the other micronutrients addressing our customers need and population issues, such as zinc deficiencies.

Horticulture is today a strategic development axis for Prayon. What made you come to this decision?

VR: We came to that conclusion when looking at this century’s challenges:

  • the increasing worldwide demography and the need for food for all;
  • the change in diet from cereals to meat leading to higher needs in crops;
  • decreasing availability of arable lands and scarcity of water; the need for yield improvements leading to the need for higher efficiency fertilizers;
  • current overdose of fertilizers leading to environmental issues (such as eutrophication) showing the need for higher performance fertilizers.

Phosphates being a major ingredient for plant growth and Prayon being a major actor in the phosphate world, the link was quickly done.

Apart from mineral fertilizers, do you have any intention to reinforce your presence in horticulture by adding other products such as biostimulants and if so, will you do it through partnerships or acquisitions?

VR: Our current focus is the development of our hortipray® micronutri range. Other fields of development are under scrutiny; the new strategy will soon be released.

Which regions of the world do you rank as priorities to expand your business in horticulture?

KV: Europe remains obviously important for us. We are also conducting studies to define the best way to increase our presence with our new products in other regions of the world, such as India, Brazil, the USA, Canada, etc.

Source: New AG International