Small Talk: High fertiliser costs should help Plant Impact to thrive

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The Independent Online

Later today, the annual United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development will convene in New York. Before the session even starts, there has been an international rumpus: the meeting is supposed to be a high-level ministerial affair but, with the Zimbabwean government in the chair, Britain refuses to send a minister of any rank.

Such meetings usually produce grandiose statements about countries working closely to produce food for everyone at sustainable prices; all very worthy, particularly for those in the chair. However, any statement coming from New York will be no more closely scrutinised than on a business park in Preston which is the home of the AIM-listed Plant Impact.

The company produces a clever technology that allows plants to absorb more calcium, which is useful in what the group calls poor abiotic conditions – bad weather, to you and me. The effect is an increase in crop yield by up to 48 per cent in the case of tomatoes, says the group's chief executive, Peter Blezard. He adds that because the fruit and vegetables treated with his technology are crammed full of calcium, the produce has a longer shelf-life. Mr Blezard insists that his treatment is not a form of genetic modification and, by allowing farmers to use a lot less fertiliser, it is better for the environment too.

The company was floated in October 2006 and currently generates £500,000 in sales revenue. However, Mr Blezard has been busy negotiating tie-ups with big corporate partners, most notably on 14 April with the announcement that Plant Impact's technology will be marketed and distributed in the US by Miller, a major distributor of fertilisers. The company is also working in Britain with several groups, including Tesco.

Mr Blezard and his team are nothing if not ambitious. He reckons sales will reach £10m within three to five years and he has been busy securing eight patents. He concedes that that makes Plant Impact a pretty tasty takeover target, and reveals that the group has already had discussions with a number of suitors.

The fact that farmers across the globe are facing higher fertiliser costs should help Plant Impact. The group says it is trying to get exposure in the House of Commons. Long-winded and well-intentioned declarations from the UN next week would help.

Southbank

It is not often you come across a Luton-based engineering group which exports to China, but that is exactly what the Channel Islands-listed Southbank does. The company makes motors, through its 193-year-old subsidiary Hayward Tyler, which sit on the sea bed and pump water into oil reservoirs to get at the black stuff. So popular is the product in the Far East that the company has a £50m order book which stretches into 2010.

This is all good news for the group, which reckons its motor can increase oil field capacity by as much as 10 per cent, but in order to keep pace with demand it needs some cash. The group chief executive, Ewan Lloyd-Baker, says that it will soon be asking investors to stump up a bit more money. The company is owned by an eclectic mix of shareholders, including the England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and the property magnate Vincent Tchenguiz, many of whom will soon be getting a letter asking them to put their hands in their pockets.

Mr Lloyd-Baker has built his career in corporate finance and should know a good deal when he sees one. He says Southbank is in acquisition mode and that one deal might not be too far off, but he also has his eye on cashing out. The group's annual revenues for 2007 were £24.7m. If Southbank can push that up towards £200m in the next few years, he reckons it could become prey.

Mining group Leyshon finds all that glisters turns to big profits in China

Paul Atherley, the managing director of Leyshon Resources, likes China. So much so in fact, that he uprooted his AIM-listed company from its Australian heartland to the north-eastern province of Heilongjinag, on the Russian border, three years ago.

The company, with a market capitalisation of £48.5m, is mainly a gold miner and part of its ambitious plan is to generate revenues of $90m (£45.6m) this year alone.

The jewel in Leyshon's crown is its Zheng Guang gold and zinc project, which independent estimates say contains 1.2 million ounces of gold.

Mr Atherley expects gold to be pouring out by next year, which will no doubt be comforting to Chinese consumers, who are demanding the metal by the bucket load.

Mr Atherley believes there has never been a better time to be in China, arguing that the authorities are bending over backwards to help. The provincial power suppliers, for example, recently promised to install a brand new 13MW power line to Zheng Guang, all to be up and running within the next two months.

Leyshon, like China, has undergone huge changes in its recent history but, with the entire operation now in the booming region of Heilongjinag, the future looks bright. Chinese ambition and wealth know few limits at the moment and that has to be good for a gold miner in the country.

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