The story of Altum begins in 1989, when the company was established by its co-founders, Bert Quin and Grant McComb. Their move was sparked by Fletcher Challenge’s departure from the New Zealand fertiliser market. Fletcher Challenge had been the distributors for reactive phosphate rock (RPR) and their withdrawal from the market left a gap that Quin and McComb were keen to fill. The pair signed a joint venture agreement with Mintech (NZ) Ltd, so forming Quinphos Fertilisers (NZ) Ltd.
Dr Bert Quin had excellent credentials to undertake such a venture. He had spent many years in MAF’s Agricultural Research Division (now AgResearch) conducting research into RPR and nitrogen. Eventually, he was appointed chief scientist of the soil fertility research division based at Ruakura, Hamilton, and in this capacity he was responsible for coordinating national trials on RPR.
Grant McComb proved an ideal business partner for Dr Quin. An accountant by training, Grant had worked at the other end of the food chain, and had recently left Watties when he joined forces with Dr Quin. The two worked together to establish a national market for their products, with most of the focus being on RPR. Their first shipment arrived in October 1989, right in the middle of a national waterfront strike.
In 1992, Mintech relinquished its interest in the company. At the same time, the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan formed a trading partnership with Quinphos Fertilisers, supplying fertiliser and leasing the business and brand name in New Zealand. This relationship deepened in 1995, when Sumitomo took a 55% shareholding in the company, which was renamed Summit-Quinphos.
In 2000, McComb resigned, selling his shareholding to Ballance Agri-Nutrients. In late 2005, Dr Bert Quin retired from his role of general manager and also sold his remaining shareholding to Ballance. This left the company shareholding split between Sumitomo Corporation (60%) and Ballance (40%). In 2008 Sumitomo Corporation sold their majority shareholding to Ballance, and the Summit Quinphos head office was relocated to the Bay of Plenty. In 2011 the company marked another stage in its development by rebranding as Altum.
Over the years, the company has grown significantly, not just in the number of employees, but also in the range of products and services it offers. Today, the focus is on innovative, whole-farm nutrient management, individualised for every property. While RPR-based products still form an important part of the company’s offering, they have been supplemented with novel fertilisers, farm mapping services and regionally optimised animal nutrition products.