Many of the growers that Barrett Smith deals with are seeking something better, the Sales Manager/Agronomist with Huma Gro says. “They know that when it comes to nutrients, they aren’t getting back everything that they’re putting in.”
The result: Strong growth in the fertilizer additives and enhancers segment is continuing, and retailers should identify products to help their customers and differentiate their business.
Additive suppliers say the benefits are many, including positive ROIs for the grower, margin opportunities for the retailer, and simply “doing the right thing” to keep fertilizer in the field and plant available.
Once the nitrogen fertilizer is in the nitrate form, it is subject to loss via denitrification and leaching and, combined, these forces can steal 25% to 50% of applied nitrogen, Kent Woodall, Vice President of Rosen’s Inc., says.
Woodall adds another reason the market is growing: Many retailers and growers alike see more restrictions or regulation on the horizon and are trying to get ahead of the curve. “It’s becoming more important than ever to have a solid nutrient management plan, and we believe fertilizer additives will play an increasingly larger role in those plans,” he says.
The plans aim to do many things, including preventing fertilizer from moving into waterways. “In the nitrogen protection arena it is all about keeping the nitrogen in the field,” Woodall says. “When applying UAN or urea, NBPT is the only bonafide active ingredient recognized by academics and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to reduce volatilization — which is responsible for as much as 30% to 40% of nitrogen lost.”
Rosen’s brand of NBPT is Factor. For below-ground protection the company offers nitrapyrin and DCD to slow the conversion of ammonium to nitrate.
The seven formulations in BRANDT’s Reaction product line contain a patented chemistry that delays the chemical fixation and reaction of nutrients with other elements in the soil. The applied nutrient (N, P, K, or S) remains accessible to the plant for a longer period — up to 26 weeks in certain soil types and conditions — Marketing Director Chandra Roberts says. The company’s other nutrient enhancer, N-Boost, increases mitochondrial activity within the plant, enhancing plant physiological functions and nutrient uptake and utilization. It contains a patented fermentation extract derived from sugarcane.
“It will only be a matter of time until certain nutrients or nutrient amounts will be restricted,” Huma Gro’s Smith says. “Fumigants are that way now, and the problem of nutrient runoff and leaching is getting worse. Public awareness is growing regarding these problems, and that may soon force additional regulatory changes.”
Smith has found that, while use of additive technologies is not a part of all nutrient management plans, internationally (especially in Europe) these enhancers are seen as “absolutely critical,” he says.
Market potential for the wide variety of enhancers available is huge. For instance, startlingly, only about 25% of the acres in the United States are receiving any kind of added nitrogen product, Andrew Duff, Senior Vice President of U. S. Sales with Verdesian Life Sciences, says.
There is a lot of growth opportunity in the row crop market, in particular, as growers better understand how these products work, Smith says. The degree of adoption in commodity crops is not nearly as high as with produce growers who are accustomed to high-input/high-output yields.
BRANDT has seen an increase in demand in West Coast states, where regulations and water restrictions factor into fertility plans. The company has also seen an increase in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where nutrient leaching into waterways is a concern, as well as regions with high alkaline or high acidic soils, where soil nutrient availability can be a challenge.
Education is the key. Growers do not know enough about the products, Duff says. That is the reason Verdesian is now investing heavily in bolstering its sales force and marketing and R&D groups. Significantly more people are communicating directly with dealers and growers about the company’s Avail (for phosphorus) and NutriSphere-N (for nitrogen).
“With all the scrutiny around sustainability and water quality and soil health, our products are a perfect fit into that conversation,” Duff says.
Verdesian has a program aimed at building relationships and training dealers on use of additives. Verdesian Innovation Partners (VIP) determines the value of these products and how to communicate that to grower customers.
In addition, the company rolled out a performance guarantee this year, one of the first in the industry, Duff says. The premise is simple: Growers use Avail or NutriSphere-N on their crops this season. If they don’t get increased yield — at least enough to cover the cost of product — Verdesian will cover the cost for them.
Producers are more aware of the potential for fertilizer loss and are willing to add enhancers if they are proven to perform, Mike Powell, Biosciences Brand Manager with Helena Chemical Co., says. His company offers a variety of fertilizer additives, “each supported by years of research and field use,” that can help protect a grower’s fertilizer investment, he says.
Smith has found that “when we just talk about cost and return on investment, typically it goes in one ear and out the other as growers don’t see how a product could work for them. A lot of growers are skeptical of unfamiliar products and fear being tricked into buying ‘snake oil.’”
Instead, thoroughly explaining the technologies is what encourages use. For instance, Huma Gro’s product lines contain what the company calls Micro Carbon Technology, a concept with which customers might not be familiar. The science is based on leonardite, a soft, brown, oxygen-rich form of coal that is made up of decomposing plant matter and minerals. When applied to farm fields, this material improves the soil’s fertility and plants’ nutrient uptake, Smith says.
Manufacturers shared news on several products for this season, some from biological sources.
N-Fixx XLR is Helena’s latest fertilizer additive. It controls nitrogen loss while correcting common application problems. “When added to urea or UAN, it keeps nitrogen in the ammonium form for crops to use during key growth stages,” Powell says. It also contains patented FlowTech Formulation Technology to control nitrogen loss at reduced application rates, minimize potential build up, and improve handling with faster treatments and storage of less product.
BRANDT introduced a product line called BRANDT EnzUp, which boasts nutrient formulations that contain proprietary, patent-pending enzymes that boost soil microbial activity and nutrient uptake. These enzymes have been stabilized to speed up plant response and efficacy.
BRANDT EnzUp 12-58-0 is a water-soluble nitrogen and phosphorus formulation that contains phosphate-releasing enzymes. The enzyme has been proven to convert organic phosphates that are tied up in the soil into more soluble and bioavailable phosphates, which enhances plant phosphate uptake and metabolism, Roberts says.
BRANDT EnzUp Zn is a liquid 5% zinc formulation with a high concentration of two proprietary, patent-pending enzymes. The enzymes interact with the outermost layer of the roots, which creates a draw for more water and nutrients toward the root zone. This helps increase water and nutrient uptake and nutrient metabolism. This results in optimized fertilizer use and helps reduce total applied fertilizer, Roberts says.
Rosen’s has a new high-concentrate formulation of NBPT called Factor Plus. It allows for low use rates during blending and quicker drying compared to other products.
Verdesian will be unveiling next-generation nitrogen and phosphorus products over the next 12 to 18 months. The company introduced Take Off LS at Commodity Classic. The technology, aimed at all broad-acre crops, mimics a naturally occurring molecule in the plant that allows the crop to more efficiently assimilate carbon and utilize nitrogen and other nutrients.
Advice on Building Sales
How can dealers boost this product segment? There are a wide range of proprietary inputs available that can enhance nutrient uptake, so it’s important to spend time learning about formulation differences and how they perform, BRANDT’s Roberts says. It is important to look for products that are proven in the field and the lab.
Rosen’s Woodall agrees that additives need to be validated by research — and accepted by “academia and NRCS.”
He adds that when a grower wants to cut fertilizer additives, simply ask him: “Why?” It’s easy for growers to see fertilizer additives as an unnecessary expense, but taking a few minutes to reinforce the value is likely all they need to continue to use the products, Woodall says.
“Explain the technology until you are blue in the face, and then do it again until they are willing to try it,” Smith says. “If you really have something special that will also bring them an economical benefit, then it’s a no-brainer. A sale will be much easier once a grower understands that applying a product is going to save at least 20% in overall fertilizer costs.”