By Paul Post
Rob DeMarco’s firm, AgroChem, got a toehold in the dairy industry with a foot bath solution that keeps cows healthy and productive.
The product, Healmax, is now one of about 100 hygiene and sanitizing products the Saratoga Springs-based company sells to farms throughout the U.S. and around the globe from China and Japan to Eastern and Western Europe.
“Most people don’t realize just how big the dairy industry is in the U.S. and the world, and how many hygiene-type products are required,” said DeMarco, who founded AgroChem with his father, John, in 2005.
Dairy, with about 3,500 farms, is the largest component of New York’s $5 billion agriculture industry. Nationwide there are nearly 9.2 million milk cows and New York ranks fifth in production behind California, Wisconsin, Idaho and Texas.
In response to fast-paced growth and a quest for more efficient operations, AgroChem has plans for a 25,000-square-foot addition to the firm’s 36,000-square-foot facility at W. J. Grande Industrial Park, which it moved into seven years ago after starting out in a trailer and small rented space.
“We’ve had year-over-year growth since our inception,” Rob DeMarco said. “This building has been great, but we really need more space for finished goods inventory.”
This will allow AgroChem to sell more effectively by picking and shipping from a supply of finished products, rather than making goods as they’re ordered.
“We really need to change the nature of the way we manufacture,” he said.
AgroChem currently has 45 employees and like many companies today, it’s trying to overcome labor shortage issues by putting a high priority on finding and retaining good help.
“We need to be more efficient not just to save money, but to save money so we can pay our workers a good wage,” DeMarco said. “We’ll be using technology to become more efficient. We see that as a way to be able to pay our existing workers better. You want to get good people, hold on to those good ones and have them be in positions that you can pay them well.”
The expansion could lead to the creation of five new jobs, not just in production, but front office, sales, and equipment installation as well.
When first proposed three years ago, the project was expected to cost about $3 million. But with COVID-related delays, supply chain issues and the skyrocketing cost of materials, the final price tag might be more than $5 million.
DeMarco said it’s hoped the addition will be completed by the end of this year. It’s already approved, but is going back to city officials for review of proposed modifications to the original plan.
In addition to increased storage, plans now call for a recycling operation so that 55-gallon metal product containers can be cleaned and reused to cuts costs, eliminate waste and help the environment.
Neither Rob nor John DeMarco had a background in farming before launching AgroChem. Rob earned degrees in engineering and management from Clarkson University, a master’s in business administration from New York University, worked in the telecom industry for several years and then switched to financial research. John is a chemist and worked in the chemical distribution industry for many years.
“My father was dabbling in some of these products when he was approached by someone, wondering if he could make something for the dairy industry,” Rob said. “One thing led to the next.”
He moved back to Saratoga Springs from New York City to work with his father full time, about two years after AgroChem’s founding.
Two years ago, the French food safety firm, Kersia Group, purchased a majority stake in AgroChem. Rob DeMarco is still a part owner and company president. John DeMarco is vice president for product development, but is no longer an owner.
Exports already account for about 30 percent of AgroChem’s sales. Now, as part of the Kersia Group, AgroChem expects to find new markets in the pig and poultry industries, another reason for the proposed 25,000-square-foot expansion.
In addition, the current facility is home to a related company, Biosan, which makes peracetic acid, a sanitizing agent used in many facets of industry. Applications run the gamut from hospital and commercial laundries to wastewater treatment plants. Rob DeMarco said peracetic acid is an effective alternative to chlorine bleach because it’s a more powerful oxidizer and more environmentally friendly.