In spite of challenging economic conditions, blender manufacturers are staying plenty busy this winter as dealers and growers gear up for the spring. “The blender market for the last 12 months has been very good,” says Bruce Hinkeldey with Ranco Fertiservice. “Our company’s sales have been steadily increasing, and we see this trend continuing through 2009.”
Sales at Doyle Equipment Manufacturing could rate an “8” or “9,” says Mark Baggett, North American sales team. At R&R Manufacturing, inside sales manager Marilyn Cox calls the rush “a good problem to have — and we hope it stays that way.”
Anne Sheehy, with international sales and marketing at Yargus Manufacturing, says volatile fertilizer prices have made everyone more cautious. “But we are starting off 2009 with high dollars in sales already on order for the year.”
Speed And Accuracy
One reason for the demand is that equipment makers continue to answer the call for what buyers want, particularly speed and accuracy — with product claims confirmed not only by dealers themselves but by independent government and fertilizer industry officials who check mix loads.
“Our customers always ask for speed and accuracy,” says Hinkeldey, whose company’s most popular blenders are the Ranco DW (declining weigh) and Ranco Volumetric Multi-blender. “They tell us they are amazed at the capacity and accuracy of our blenders as well as the ease of operation.”
Yargus’ Sheehy says the company is constantly updating hoppers, belt widths, and software packages, enabling it to provide the fastest, most accurate Volumetric/Declining Weight machine possible. She describes how at one customer’s operation, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has sampled eight to 10 loads of fertilizer per year. “Every one was the exact formula we had sold the farmer,” says the dealer, who moves about 25,000 tons of fertilizer per year through his volumetric blender. All over the world, 2008 was a big year for Yargus’ volumetric blender sales and installations (the company also sold more Tower Blend systems than in previous years as well).
As for speed, Jim Crane, marketing manager, says A.J. Sackett & Sons is excited about its H.I.M. (High Intensity Mixer) because it can blend a whole batch of fertilizer in 30 seconds, then discharge it almost instantly via twin bomb-bay doors that empty the whole batch at once. “Ideal for high-speed blend towers, these mixers have been tested by the International Fertilizer Development Center and found to give excellent results in terms of blend quality and granule integrity,” says Crane. And because of the fast mix time and gentle mix action, fertilizer granules are not damaged by the machine, he says.
Waconia Manufacturing’s TA-Series Tapered Auger Vertical blenders promise thorough, fast, and consistently accurate blends, thanks to the steepest hopper slope in the industry and the tapered 40- to 22-inch diameter auger, notes Rob Henderson, sales manager.
Durability, speed, and accuracy are key during heavy mixing times. The TA-Series’ units are supported by heavy-duty, 6-inch steel I-Beam frame construction, plus the double-reduction gearbox is specifically designed for heavy service applications.
This season’s blenders are now available with important options for dealers to take advantage of, including:
Micro capabilities. Crane has found growing demand from dealers to add liquid for dry fertilizer enhancements effectively in the blender, including urea release inhibitors and micronutrients.
For consistently good additive coverage, accurate blends, and lump elimination, Crane says A.J. Sackett has introduced the optional built-in Bulk Conditioner for its TriTon tapered screw vertical auger. “The screen under the rotor can be tilted down for cleaning in about five minutes or can be entirely removed in about 10 minutes, without any tools,” he describes. “The mixer’s three-load-cell design is more accurate than mechanical knife and pivot scales and requires much less maintenance.” And, he says that because the load cells are 42 inches above the floor, their lifetime is increased — and this set-up makes the blender very stable.
Yargus has debuted a new micronutrient feeder with a lower rate for powders, because the company is getting more and more inquiries from people using more powdery materials, says Sheehy. “So we’re adjusting our machine to handle both granular and powders.”
Stainless steel. More and more buyers are going with stainless steel scales and skids for longer life, says Cox. “With our extra little riser on the skid, they’re able to clean underneath.”
Useful add-ons. One of the newest and most popular options at R&R is a pivotable undercar chain belt, says Cox. “If you have a chain belt feeding into the leg and you have a track or rail, you can swing it out of the road.”
For environmental protection, dealers are getting discharge socks to put on conveyors to prevent fertilizer fly-away, she says.
All Sizes Moving
In the past few years, CropLife® has tracked growth in large-scale blending operations. “It seems high capacity machines continue to be in demand,” says Sheehy, “and our bigger models were more popular this year.” Due to customer demand, Yargus is offering larger models in its Tapered Vertical Blender. “We now offer 13- and 16-ton models that can be bought as stand-alone blenders or incorporated into the Tower Blend System,” describes Sheehy.
But Doyle’s Baggett sees a strong demand for smaller units. “I think the market has turned back to smaller capacities,” he says. “Because of the volatile fertilizer market, dealers and growers are reverting back to doing blending themselves.” Baggett also sees this past season’s high fuel prices playing a role, with blender users reluctant to drive 100 miles to a mega-plant for loads.
Units with lower power needs are also selling. Cox points out that R&R’s Minuteman 2 uses lower horsepower motors, and “gives significant savings in electrical usage.” The Minuteman 2 utilizes two motors, one at the inload and one at the top: 5- and 20-hp motors on the 6- and 8-ton units; 5- and 25-hp on the 10- and 12-ton blenders.