New Zealand's very first spirulina farm could be start of $100m industry

New Zealand is known for its sheep and dairy farming, but could spirulina be the next big thing?

It already is in Manawatu, home to New Zealand's very first spirulina farm. And it could be the start of a $100 million industry.

Surrounded by farmland shrub sit two 50-metre long greenhouses. Inside, dark ponds of algae are pushed around by a paddlewheel.

"Overseas they grow in massive open ponds generally," says NZ Algae Innovation director Rob Lawler.

Here, at the country's only spirulina farm, it is done a little differently.

"This is sort of more of the artesian, we're keeping a lot of the contaminates out by having it covered," Lawler says.

When it comes to harvest, the algae is pumped through and separated from the water, producing thick slime which is then pressed to remove any leftover liquid.

That 'batter' is then squeezed into spaghetti on trays and placed into a dehumidifier for 12 hours.

It's all part of a project with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to explore the possibility of an entirely new business.

"It's potentially a new opportunity for farmers to grow a high-value product on quite a small land footprint," says MPI investment director Steve Penno.

"We think that we can grow it into a $100m industry for New Zealand exporting it overseas and using within New Zealand," Lawler says.

This is the only locally grown and packaged spirulina product available in the country.

"Consumption of plant-based proteins is definitely on an upward curve and we wanna be part of that growth," Lawler says.

To make it more appealing it can be turned into a variety of forms - powder, tablets or sprinkles. It can be eaten with smoothies, dip or muesli bars.

The test for NZ Algae Innovations is expanding its capacity. To help keep costs down it's building much of its infrastructure by hand using reusable material.

The aim going forward is building more farms around the country and growing New Zealand's newest primary product.