Micros Make Move

Whither crop — especially corn — prices go, so go micronutrient sales. Given current high corn prices, it’s not surprising that the 2007 growing season will go in the books as very successful for most micronutrient manufacturers.

“Overall, it was a great year, one of the best we’ve had,” says Paul McCoy, Jr., president of Dunedin, FL-based NutriChem, an American Minerals supply partner and maker of Granusol products.

And as long as corn prices stay high, micronutrient sales will increase, says Jerry Stoller, president and CEO of StollerUSA. The Houston, TX-based company, which offers micronutrients and its Crop Health Products line, has tracked micronutrient sales performance since 1972 and is seeing micronutrient sales increase worldwide. “Micronutrient sales will continue to grow if the price of commodities stays high. It is about that simple,” Stoller says.

“For the benefits, micronutrients are a good buy,” says Todd Wilson, Southeast sales representative for Atmore, AL-based Tiger-Sul Products, LLC. Tiger-Sul’s newest sulfur-based product, Tiger Corn Mix, includes zinc and other micronutrients in a low analysis formulation designed to greatly improve site distribution of micronutrients. “We had limited production for 2007 and have several research plots throughout the U.S. corn growing regions.” he adds.

Good/Bad Zinc News

Zinc is one of the key micronutrients for corn. And zinc deficiency can cause yields to drop 30% to 40%, according to Dr. Dan Froehlich, U.S. agronomy manager for The Mosaic Co. When corn prices are higher, growers typically are willing to put the money down for such a critical element.

That was certainly the experience of Wolf Trax, Inc., headquartered in Winnipeg, MB, Canada. “The increased corn acres resulted in increased demand for our zinc,” says Kerry Green, marketing director. “More importantly, increased commodity prices had many producers looking beyond NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash) and focusing on maximizing returns rather than cutting costs. As a result, we had strong sales not only on zinc but on our other products as well.”

However, some manufacturers were unable to move a lot of zinc this season. A dramatic increase in prices of materials such as zinc and magnesium put a kink in their profits pipeline.

“The cost was through the roof,” says McCoy. “It was over $1,000 per ton for 36% zinc.” The increases are caused by raw materials shortages, increased demand, and freight costs.

Southeastern growers who increased their acres, especially corn acres, had to spread their money a little thinner. “In my area, the Southeast, they cut the micronutrients,” says Alan Robinett, Southern region sales manager for TETRA Micronutrients, Houston, TX.

“I also saw pushback in volume because the dealers and growers were convinced that zinc would come down from the record highs,” adds Robinett, who works out of Ozark, AL. “It never happened and the grower either didn’t use zinc or he sprayed a ‘little dab’ on if he got enough of a stand to consider it.”

Several companies, including NutriChem and Wolf Trax, studied the market and purchased product at an opportune price so they could pass along the increase to customers gradually.

For all the talk about corn, Stoller points out that manganese sales in soybeans is also an especially bright spot this season. “This was due to an issue created by research at Purdue University that shows glyphosate resistant soybeans are more subject to a manganese deficiency,” he says, adding that “during the summer, there were a number of comments that glyphosate-resistant corn was having more problems with zinc deficiency.”

2008 And Beyond

How will micronutrients — zinc in particular — fare next season?

“Bumper yields will remove more micronutrients and corn in particular will remove significant levels of zinc,” says Robinett. “Keep in mind that zinc has doubled in price in two years and shows no signs of coming down. Energy costs always affect micronutrient production and transport. I have a gut feeling the prices will stabilize for the next year.”

McCoy also feels retailers may catch a break soon, noting the price increase rate appears to be leveling off.

“It is anticipated that the elimination of the Chinese VAT (Value Added Tax) reimbursement program will have an additional impact on rising costs of micronutrients imported from China during 2008,” says Don Gordon, president of QC Corp., Cape Girardeau, MO. “We anticipate that with our new Granular Micronutrient products, in addition to our Granular Ferrous (Iron) Sulfate Monohydrate, our micronutrient sales will be increasing during 2008 due to the superior agronomic advantages these new products offer to our customers.”

“I think micronutrient use will continue to increase,” says Wilson. “Will 2008 be positive? Absolutely.”

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