Marine farming feeds firm's growth

Last updated 09:53 15/11/2012
Mike and Donna Baker

Underwater experts: Mike and Donna Baker run a trio of companies, which began in 1992 with Commercial Diving Consultants Ltd and splintered into two stand-alone companies in 2005 after they found themselves inundated with marine farm work.

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The course of Mike Baker's life changed when his uncle Ross turned up at the family's North Canterbury farm to lend a hand, with his diving gear in tow.

"As a young kid, I thought, ‘That's me'," says Mr Baker, who sport dived with wife Donna before going to deep-sea diving college in Australia in 1980, and from there to oil rigs.

These days, Ross MacDonald is still an inspiration for the Bakers, working casually for their Picton company N-Viro, despite being 82.

The Bakers run a trio of companies, which began in 1992 with Commercial Diving Consultants Ltd (CDC), and splintered into two stand-alone companies in 2005 after they found themselves inundated with work installing anchors and moorings on marine farms.

Mr Baker, who comes from a family of inventors, used his experience in the offshore oil industry to develop a spiral anchoring system, which he says allows more efficient use of water space.

In 2000, CDC won the Service Industry Excellence Award and the Supreme Award at the Marlborough Business Awards, but the Bakers were in no way ready to rest on their laurels.

Their second company, N-Viro, was established in 2005 to focus on mooring and anchoring systems for marine farms, pipelines and floating jetties, and has developed farms at Stewart Island, Banks Peninsula, Golden Bay and the Coromandel, as well as Marlborough.

Mr Baker says the local marine farming industry has been the perfect complement to the business.

"We've been here since day one of the industry, and it has allowed our company to develop our technology. If the marine farming industry wasn't here, our company wouldn't be where it is today."

N-Viro was called to Lyttelton in 2010 after the Chilean tsunami affected the town's water pipeline. "Our company and OCEL came up with the world's first tsunami-proof anchoring system, using our technology," says Mr Baker.

While working on that project, Christchurch had the first of its big earthquakes, which put the N-Viro system to the test and found it sound. Work on the pipeline was suspended while the company went to work dealing with earthquake damage to the quay. "As Mike would say it, we're the go-to fix-it people," says Mrs Baker. "If there's a problem underwater, they come to us."

Their success with stabilising the pipelines and developing better systems has gained worldwide attention, including from the engineers from the Fukushima nuclear plant damaged by Japan's earthquake and tsunami last year.

That kind of prospect on the international stage led the Bakers to develop an international arm of N-Viro in 2010, which has already sold a licence for the technology to a Tasmanian company. Their goal now is to find like-minded people and train them as licensees, so the technology can go global.

The three companies, bundled as the N-Viro Group, are entered in this year's Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

Mrs Baker says their entry is an entirely different beast from the one they won with in 2000, and in another decade they expect to be even bigger and better.

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"Through determination, innovation and technology, we feel that the world is our oyster - no pun intended."

The winners of the Westpac Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Business Awards will be announced at a gala dinner on November 16.

- The Marlborough Express

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