In a time of turbulent trade conditions and price uncertainty, the most important question for a busy retailer in the spring is likely, will I be able to get what I need when I need it? Finding a reliable supplier is always important, but it’s more challenging now. Yet spring is still coming, and farmers still need fertilizer.
Top-to-Bottom Supply Management Offers Key Advantages
Stanley Mickels, Agronomist/President of UlexAndes, a major supplier of boron and other crop nutrition products, says his company’s top priority is being a reliable supplier. And because the company has a long term contract with the Bolivian government and South American partner, it controls the process from beginning to end.
“This is a huge advantage,” Mickels says. “If a manufacturer doesn’t have a reliable raw material source they control, they are at anyone’s mercy. We control our mining site and the quality of the raw material. Then we can take that product and develop our fertilizer. Our entire goal is to have our product positioned ahead of the demand curve at the beginning of the spring and fall seasons.”
UlexAndes’ mines are in South America, another advantage in the current market. Mickels says until recently, imports from Asia were common, and the price was low. But circumstances have changed, and supplies from Asia may not be as reliable.
“In addition to the unpredictability of trade deals, China is dealing with environmental regulations and there is more demand domestically,” Mickels says. “Our customer base is relieved they have another supplier to go to. For instance, the cost of the zinc they bought from China last summer may not be available for the 2019 spring season, and if it is, it will be at an elevated price.”
UlexAndes began mining in Peru, Chile and Bolivia 16 years ago and has deep relationships there. After starting small, the company is now the second largest manufacturer of boron fertilizer in the country.
“We are more than a broker,” Mickels says. We have engineers on staff, we process and granulate and continue to improve our products. When our customers in North America provide feedback, that information is passed to our factory in South America. We have a direct connection to the people doing the manufacturing, because they are our employees.”
Micronized Granulation Technology (MGT) Produces High-Quality Product
While UlexAndes is known for its boron, it produces granular manganese sulfate and copper sulfate as well. Its copper sulfate is processed using a patented micronized granulation technology that allows better blending and breaks down more easily in the soil, making it more easily available to plants.
Most copper sulfate that comes from China and North America is a crystal that can range in size from a very small powder similar to sugar to as large as 5 to 6 mm, Mickels explains. Because the crystal is an irregular shape, it does not blend well with the other simple ingredients in the typical SGN 285-300 size, because they are round.
“We thought we could do better than this, and decided to try pulverizing our raw material to a fine mesh and then granulated it with our MGT,” Mickels says. “It worked tremendously well. Feedback from our customers has been great, and we are planning a full launch in the spring. Copper sulfate isn’t as major as boron, but it doesn’t take away the need to have a quality dry blend for our customers who use copper sulfate.”
All of the company’s products are produced with it’s proprietary MGT, which is one of the things that sets UlexAndes apart. Mickels is often asked why they go to the extra expense of finely grinding the material first.
“If you break up the minerals into a fine powder first, and then granulate it, when the prill breaks down in the soil, the fine powder is more readily available,” he says.
Good Stewardship is a Priority
Because UlexAndes has partnerships in South America, it has strong ties to its employees and the surrounding communities, one of its core values is operating in an environmentally sustainable manner — a matter increasingly important to all levels of the supply chain. While its operations follow the governmental regulations of each country they’re in, the company also reduces its environmental impact in a number of ways:
- No residual fluids or liquids that can harm the environment are used,
- No chemical product is used as a production additive in any manufacturing process,
- All products are natural, creating a completely organic product for use in agriculture,
- Natural gas is used as an energy source to obtain heat for calcination furnaces due to its low gas emissions compared to other oil derivatives.
UlexAndes also provides product education through trade shows and regional agronomy meetings. But the company prides itself most on providing a top-quality product when its customers need it.
“We make sure our product is positioned in various warehouses across the country ahead of the demand curve for our customers — even in these unpredictable times,” Mickels says. “If we succeed at that, we’ve succeeded.”