This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal
Montco company pushing organic alternatives for tackling weeds, grubs – and ice.
BY: JOHN GEORGE
Nate Clemmer was in the backyard of his new house five years ago when he came to a realization.
“The house is adjacent to a creek,” he said. “One day, I was out pushing my spreader putting down fertilizer. It hit me that there was no question a part of what I was spreading would go into that creek. So I stopped and decided to look for alternatives.
Clemmer knows the fertilizer industry well. He is president of SynaTek Soultions, an 18-year-old Souderton company that specializes in products and technologies used by the golf, landscape, agriculture and ice melt industries.
“I couldn’t find anything that I was comfortable with in terms of performance and price,” he said. “So I started talking with people. We work with a lot of organic chemists and what I kept hearing was they didn’t have anything today, but they were working on it.”
That journey eventually led to a new line of products for SynaTek.
The name of the body of water he wanted to protect — Branch Creek — is also the name of a new SynaTek brand launched this year. Branch Creek is focused on marketing environmentally friendly fertilizers and products for lawns, commercial and government properties, and athletic fields and facilities including golf courses.
“We will still sell synthetic products and we will do it unapologetically,” Clemmer said. “But as a company, we can’t not recognize new technology and a better way of doing things.”
With Branch Creek, he said, he can “bridge the gap” between synthetic and organic products used to control weeds and improve crop yields.
Clemmer said a traditional customer may not want to switch to all organic products, but it would make business sense to consider converting a portion of the field for organic food production — which has proven its value when considering how many people are willing to pay a premium for organic fruits and vegetables.
“We can have a business discussion about diversification and risk management,” he said. “We haven’t converted a lot of [customer] acres yet, but that is where we are headed. A business owner with 1,000 acres may want to convert 100 to organic. It would be a bad business decision not to consider it.”
With Branch Creek, he said, the company wants to accomplish two primary goals: Bridging the gap between the demand for organic products and its ability to supply it, and raising awareness about “what goes in our soil affects our water.”
Clemmer said his company is now focusing its sales effort for its Branch Creek lawn care products on its larger commercial customers, but long-term plans include sales to homeowners. The company is looking at creating a consumer lawn care program with different organic products for controlling weeds and harmful insects and promoting healthy yards for homeowners next year.
SynaTek, which generates annual revenues of about $40 million and employs a staff of about 50 full-time equivalents, was formed in 2003 by Clemmer’s father Ken Clemmer in a partnership with Billy Willard and Bob Willard. The Willards lead Willard Agri-Service, which continues to serve as SynaTek’s manufacturing partner.
The business was once part of Moyer & Son’s agricultural business, which was sold to Timac North America in 2001. Timac North America is the U.S. subsidiary of Timec Agro, an international agricultural products company based in France.
Timec was not interested in the Moyer & Son plant nutrient division, the business unit Ken Clemmer was part of that sold products to non-farm customers such as golf courses operators and commercial and residential property owners. Ken Clemmer, rather than take another position with Moyer & Sons [now Moyer Indoor/Outdoor] or retire, negotiated a deal to take over the division. “He wanted to see if he could grow the business on his own,” Nate Clemmer said.
SynaTek was initially formed to manufacture and sell synthetic fertilizers, crop, grass seed and equipment to golf courses and large lawn care companies. Ken Clemmer served as Synatek’s president up until July 2016 when Nate took over.
Today Synatek’s other brands, in addition to Branch Creek, are SynaTek Reach, which formulates and produces liquid and granular plant nutrients; Ecotronics, the company’s equipment technology arm; and Secure Winter Products, which markets innovative and environmentally friendly ice melt technologies.
In Janaury, the company began selling Entry, a chloride-free de-icer it says can melt ice in as little as 30 seconds. The product, Clemmer said, is a competitively-priced and better-performing alternative to granular chloride salts that are harmful to the environment, irritate pets, and get tracked into offices and homes.
Clemmer said while the company, working with its industry partners, developed Entry as an environmentally friendly alternatives, it turned out to work better and faster than its own salt-based de-icer products.
Among Synatek’s commercial customers for Entry is the Denver Broncos, which used the de-icing and anti-icing fluid at the team’s headquarters at The UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colo., this past winter.