A Wairarapa company is looking to the healing powers of the mighty totara to save New Zealand's dairy cows from a scourge that costs the industry $100 million every year.
Totarol founder Doug Mende has been investigating how Totarol, the chemical compound found in totara trees that makes their wood resistant to rotting, could be used to treat mastitis.
Mastitis - an inflammation of the udders that leads to abnormal milk - affects one in 200 cows.
Infected cows must be taken out of their milking round, costing farmers valuable production.
Dairy New Zealand estimates the loss in production to the industry at more than $100 million a year, about $10,000 a farmer.
Beside the lost production, up to 2 per cent of cows had to be culled because of persistent mastitis, and the costs did not stop there, Mende said.
"Every year 500,000 cows get mastitis - that's $260 million in antibiotics - and it's not even necessarily working," Mende said.
His research showed that Totarol was 1.6 million times more effective than penicillin, which would mean cows would not be overexposed to antibiotics, he said.
"With dry cow therapy you are putting 2000 milligrams of antibiotics into a cow; that's a lot."
With his research complete, the last step was finding investment funding to pay for the $700,000 clinical trial.
While there had been interest, Mende could not be drawn on which companies were involved.
"We're working with some big international companies, look at the biggest and we're there," Mende said.
Nearly 20 years ago, while he was looking for ways to use New Zealand's ecology to create an economic opportunity, Mende stumbled across Totarol in a newspaper article.
Before he could begin investigating its uses, he had to find an environmentally friendly extraction method.
"Back then they were using solvents to extract it, but even then I knew people wanted green, so I worked on supercritical extraction.
"It was the first time anywhere in the world that supercritical extraction had been done on a solid, and that's what we put our patents on," Mende said.
Supercritical extraction of Totarol happens when totara is placed in a chamber of pressurised carbon dioxide heated above 31 degrees Celsius.
In the 20 years since, the extract has found life in products ranging from cosmetics to toothpaste - and curing mastitis.
In keeping with the environmentally friendly extraction process, Mende uses only recycled wood supplied by local farmers and iwi.
Once extraction was finished, the sole by-product was wood chips, which could be used as mulch, Mende said.
- The Dominion Post