“It is incredible how different the needs of our customers are,” says Nate Wittmaack, sales representative with Ranco Fertiservice. Such is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s blender manufacturers as they try to make each unit just right for each buyer. For instance, some customers need a top-notch, elaborate system of liquid impregnation on their dry product, while others do not, Wittmaack notes. Some need 20 additive bins, others don’t require any.
Shawn Hudspeth, sales and marketing with Adams Fertilizer Equipment agrees: “In today’s blender market almost every blend system is customized to each dealer’s location.” And blender makers are promising to accommodate all customers’ wish lists and still achieve retailers’ production goals.
Another challenge has been “high demands” for better blending technology, says Charles Formisani, vice president of sales for The A.J. Sackett & Sons Co. But this call for better-engineered and higher quality equipment means fertilizer retailers need to plan farther ahead than before when upgrading or building new blending systems.
In fact, in general, manufacturers we spoke with are experiencing good to great volumes of orders — for some, the largest in their history — and ramping up production to meet the demand itself has been a difficulty. Hudspeth counsels retailers that early blender orders and planning ahead for the spring rush will pay heavy dividends in the fields.
He did find that the “fiscal cliff” problem — and the threat of a new recession — did delay several blender sales by two to four weeks. Blender sales had been good in early fall of 2012 but have been exceptionally strong since the first of the year.
Cranking Out Mixes
Customers are purchasing larger and faster equipment to cover more acres in a day, which means fertilizer dealers need to stay ahead of them, says Wittmaack. “One of our customers commented that with his new blend system, his company was able to keep six floaters and 14 tender trucks moving without any waiting. Another buyer said his staff was able to cover 6,500 acres per day because blender output was not an issue.”
Indeed, fertilizer demand has been high, says Jim Carlson sales and marketing specialist with Waconia Manufacturing, therefore the need to keep increasing throughput capacities at the retail level is at the forefront.
“Dealers are considering more overhead storage, bigger blenders, high capacity conveyers, etc.,” he reports. Waconia is, in fact, producing equipment with more overhead storage along with bigger and faster blending systems. Carlson says that while the window of opportunity in the spring and fall to get product to the ground varies every year, “but we all know the window is never big enough.”
Formisani believes growers expect the best inputs available and will pay for quality product. They’re demanding the newest and best technology they can get for themselves, and they expect retailers to do the same to deliver custom blends on time. He notes that the market can be especially brutal, in fact, with today’s shorter application windows and longer distances to fields: “Retailers need to get inputs to the field or their customers will get products elsewhere.”
Speaking of speed, Adams is introducing a new 8-, 10- and 13-ton direct drive rotary blender line designed to be fast. The 13-ton unit can completely empty in 3.5 minutes using its standard 36-inch conveyor. Hudspeth says that from the weigh hopper to the blender, it only takes 1.5 minutes to completely empty 26,000 pounds. “The 13-ton blender size works very well when trying to fill trailer tenders or hopper bottom trailers quickly, in just two mixes,” he explains.
Doyle Manufacturing also has a new 13-ton Direct Drive Rotary Blender — and it’s been moving well. The unit is designed “to stock some of the bigger tenders coming along,” says Rob Heiden, engineer.
More Than Fast
Formisani believes quality of blends is equally as important as speed. As agronomy develops to where growers are truly “spoon feeding” true prescription formulations to crops, retailers need to adjust — and blenders will make that possible. “The ability to mix a prescription blend with perfect accuracy and with speed is unbelievably important going forward,” he says. He notes that the Sackett H.I.M. mixer has the technology to accomplish this kind of mix complexity. Then too, he says, the company’s Loss-In-Weight blend system is designed for “extremely accurate results,” with load cells on the major and micro hoppers so users know exactly what is being dispensed.
Waconia Manufacturing continues to stress energy efficiency, safety, speed and reliability in all its designs, says Carlson. But he also emphasizes that automation is playing an ever-increasing role in all of the company’s systems. This technology provides customers with reduced labor costs, more accurate blends and a better accounting of every load coming in or going out.
Built-in automation software gives customers a fully integrated system on the Layco Declining Weight Blend System — all from one manufacturer, says Anne Sheehy, senior vice president, corporate sales and marketing at Yargus Manufacturing. No third party automation software is required. “New for 2013 is the wireless control function that uses an iPad to operate the complete blending system,” she says.
Yet another blender selling point is fertilizer additive abilities. Waconia is devoting a lot of resources to enhancers and maximizing nutrient utilization, says Carlson.
For Ranco, one of the company’s most recent innovations is a high output metering unit that has “an incredible amount of flexibility,” explains Bruce Hinkeldey, sales representative with Ranco.
Justin Goertz with R&R Manufacturing says his company’s units’ ability to start and stop under load and mix partial batches accurately and efficiently are factors beyond speed that make them the choice for some market segments. Plus, the blenders have much lower horsepower requirements compared to other blenders.
Situation In Fields
Coming off drought conditions in many areas, fertilizer industry members weren’t sure how the fall application season would shape up. But manufacturers did not see the drastic reduction in fertilizer demand that some expected, says Wittmaack. Growers have maintained their programs more so than was expected. Continuing, unusually dry fall weather conditions in most areas allowed dealers to apply pre-plant fertilizer, Adams’ Hudspeth reports.
Projections heading into spring are uncertain, though. Subsoil moisture needs to be replenished on vast acreages. “If we experience another drier than average year in 2013, we would expect some significant changes in demand,” says Hinkeldey.
Simply put, “As long as commodity prices stay historically high, the demand will be there,” says Waconia’s Carlson. “The key factor in all of this is the weather.”