This could be a decent year for the manufacturers of mixing and blending equipment.
A quarter of the ag retailers who responded to CropLife’s annual Buying Intention Survey indicated they will increase spending on mixers and blenders in 2019. That proportion is on the high end compared to other types of agricultural equipment. Only 15% of those retailers said they would spend less on mixing and blending equipment.
Several manufacturers share the optimism entering the new year.
Darin Ebeling, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Sackett-Waconia, says his company is seeing a rise in requests for systems that incorporate value-added products and systems for specialty products, such as those used in the turf and ornamental market. In addition, Sackett-Waconia’s support of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program since its inception in March of 2014 is paying off.
“Now that the ag market’s focus has shifted to improved nutrient stewardship practices — the 4R program in particular — we also see more attention being paid to the quality of the blend,” Ebeling says. “We have been on the forefront of offering precision blending systems for over 20 years.”
Shawn Hudspeth, General Manager with Adams Fertilizer Equipment, expects strong spring sales predicated by the wet fall. He says blending speed and transportation will be major concerns when choosing fertilizer equipment this season.
“Very little fall fertilizer was applied (in the fall), and both the fall tonnage and spring will have to be all applied in 2019,” Hudspeth says. “Blending speed and getting the fertilizer to the farm for application is going to give dealers a narrow window of opportunity. This narrow window of opportunity should create increased sales in both Decline-N-Weight blenders and trailer tenders.”
Meg Steward, National Account Director with AGI Fertilizer Systems, agrees with optimistic ag retailers. “Customers have been evaluating their capital budgets more strictly over the last few years,” she says, “but when they move forward with the project, we are seeing they are open to spending more for automation and turnkey solutions.”
Monty Doyle, President of Doyle Equipment Manufacturing, also cites automation as one of three reasons he anticipates his company’s continued growth this year:
- Replacement of old machines.
- Upgrades — from small blenders to 13- and 16-ton rotary drum blend systems that offer high speed and less batches and can fill a tender trailer.
- New automated systems, such as Doyle’s Autobatch Blend System and Declining Weight Blend System.
“Doyle’s innovation of the first 13-ton and 16-ton Rotary Direct Drive Blender are becoming more and more popular,” Doyle says. “These batch systems can be automated from a single-hopper batching system to a high-speed multi-hopper Autobatch system.
Nate Reznechek, Sales Director, Fertilizer, Willmar & Industrial Samplers, GSI InterSystems, stresses blend quality as well as speed and operational flexibility. “As the industry continues to add more custom products and value to the growers, blend quality continues to become more critical,” he says. “However, blend quality alone isn’t the answer. The right solution includes speed and operational flexibility. Our focus has been and continues to be achieving the ideal synergy between these three customer demands.”
Compromising between a quality blend and speed is currently the industry’s most pressing issue, according to Reznechek. “That’s why we offer a high-capacity (8-ton) horizontal twin-shaft mixer with premiere blend quality that can batch in 45 seconds or 60 seconds if impregnating,” he says.
For Sackett-Waconia, the hot topic is precision and automation to increase speed and accuracy. “Currently, more customers are inquiring about automated systems with high-accuracy dosing and high-quality blends, as they not only reduce shrink in your warehouse but also provide better fertilizers to your customers. All of this without sacrificing the output speed,” Ebeling says.
“As capacities rise, effective blending becomes more and more important. For us that means getting more customers to adopt the HIM mixer and our Precision Fertilizer Blending systems — since they’re designed to blend at the highest quality, do so at high-output capacity, and cut out the need for outbound scales.”
Steward says the most pressing issue at AGI is how to introduce specialty products such as powder or liquid additives.
“We have partnered with the producers of crop nutrient-enhancing products. We have also invested capital and engineering resources to create solutions on how to add them to the batch blenders, towers, and DW systems,” she says. “We rolled out our latest Wolftrax hopper to the market place in 2018. This hopper allows the powder to flow through it without bridging, getting caught in the corners, or degrading the powder. This is also an NTEP (National Type Evaluation Program)-approved system.”
Words to the Wise
Hudspeth says retailers and growers can “just about blend” any rate of liquid or dry flowable micronutrients to Decline-N-Weight blenders to help increase yields. “Blending the micronutrients with Decline-N-Weight technology, just before the incline mix auger, thoroughly coats each granule, which translates to greater coverage on the ground,” he says.
Ebeling recommends taking advantage of the advancement that has occurred the last five years. “The technology is out there,” he says. “You just have to see what is available locally, ask your retailer what is currently available and what is in their plans. What’s the point of all the soil sampling, mapping, drone surveys, and high-end spreading technology if you aren’t getting the right fertilizer to spread?”
Preventive maintenance is Steward’s best bit of advice. “Treat your equipment like your car. Run your equipment for 20 minutes once a week. If you run your equipment, grease the bearings, and change the oil regularly, the parts and equipment will outlast anyone who isn’t,” she says.
AGI Fertilizer Systems has already changed its name this year while incorporating Yargus Manufacturing, Junge Controls, and CMC. The company represents the fertilizer division for Ag Growth International (AGI). Looking ahead, Steward says it’s all about “automation, automation, automation.” AGI has been automating its Volumetric/Declining Weigh Blend System for 20 years and has become a “one-stop shop for blending and controls,” she says.
“We write the code, build the panels, and support customers with our in-house support team,” Steward says. “We are now seeing interest in automating batch blenders and more receiving systems. This also allows customers to have inventory controls when applied to batch systems. With a push of a button, you can know how much product went through the blender by day, week, month, or year.”
Hudspeth says Adams/LEC-controlled Decline-N-Weight blenders and standard rotary or vertical blend systems will have the option of remote control with an iPad or tablet. The Adams/LEC SMART panel will have the capability to communicate blending information instantaneously with both the office and corporate environment, he says. “In 2019 dealers will see standardization in iPad/tablet/remote-controlled blenders and/or iPad-controlled Decline-N-Weight blends,” Hudspeth says.
Adds Doyle: “In 2018 our automated systems were just getting out into the industry. Looking into 2019, we feel we have more to offer than ever with our high-capacity batch blending and automated systems. … This has changed the game in high-capacity blending.”