It’s not easy to overcome decades of tradition. During the past decade manufacturers of micronutrients have seen their products go from the fringes of farming to the mainstream.
“Farmers are paying more attention to micronutrient deficiencies,” says Charles Nelson, SE Atlantic Sales Manager for Agrium. “New varieties with higher yield potentials require more nutrients. More and more growers are using tissue samples to maintain the appropriate amount of nutrients in the crop. What we’re seeing is growers are gaining a better understanding of the importance of micronutrients in maximizing yields.”
Agrium isn’t the only company to enjoy the popularity of micronutrients.
“We’ve seen a steady upward growth in sales over the last decade,” says Justin Smith, Executive Vice President of Huma Gro Sales at Bio Huma Netics.
According to Smith the most sought after micronutrients are boron, iron, zinc, and silica. Those micronutrients along with three others and sulfur (a secondary macronutrient) are offered in the company’s Max Pak product line.
“We have active sales throughout the United States and Latin America, as well as in Mediterranean Europe, the Mediterranean Middle East, and East Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam), Smith says. “Micronutrient sales tend to be influenced by the agricultural sophistication of growers in those markets. For some growers, the concept of micronutrients is still new or developing, and they require education plus training in micronutrient application before they see the value of incorporating micronutrient application as a standard practice.”
Brandt sells its products (Brandt Smart System and Brand Manni-Plex) in more than 40 countries.
The countries most receptive to these plant nutrition products are China, Australia, South Africa, Italy, and Chile, says Ramon Georgis, Director of International Business for Brandt.
“These countries, historically, are advanced,” Georgis says. “Growers understand optimizing the yield and the quality is essential to compete in the international market — whether it is soybean or cotton or corn growers. The education level of the growers and the distributor or consultant is at a very high level. They always advise the grower on technologies that will optimize their yield and quality.”
While the micronutrient segment of the market is growing rapidly there is still enormous potential. Nelson sees huge opportunity for the Eastern Corn Belt.
“In the past, that market has traditionally only applied NPK,” he says. “If you’re not applying micronutrients, the plant has to mine the soil for the micronutrients. Soil tests are starting to show micronutrient levels dropping in these regions. You can spend all the money you want on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, but if you come up deficient in zinc that crop cannot maximize its yield potential. That’s a real challenge when the best way to survive low commodity prices is to maximize yields.”
Agrium’s Rainbow Plant Food product line offers “a complete homogenized fertilizer containing NPK, sulfur, magnesium, boron, manganese, zinc, and iron. These products allow for uniform distribution of all plant nutrients,” Nelson says.
Efficacy is Key
One reason micronutrients have grown in recent years is because manufacturers have been able to prove their worth.
“When growers can see results quickly, sometimes in just days, it’s easy to sell the product,” Smith says. “Huma Gro and other companies that are in the micronutrient business have been conducting ongoing education campaigns that help to raise general awareness of micronutrient value for increased crop quality and yield.”
Georgis agrees: “Once the grower sees the cost benefit ratio is in their favor, they will not hesitate to use these products.”
University research verifying their efficacy has helped growers accept micronutrient products. Independent research is another tool that helps manufacturers and distributors sell growers on the value of micronutrients.
“We need to support that with data, so they can fully convince (growers) there is a technology that can be of help to them. That is the reason we are successful in these countries.”
The Importance of Education
The modern micronutrient segment has been around for decades, but that doesn’t mean that growers understand the benefits.
“We see that in areas where the agricultural soil has not been well cared for, micronutrient deficiencies are becoming more apparent and growers are recognizing the need to replenish those nutrients in the soil,” Smith says. “Growers find that continuing the same practices they have always used is resulting in diminished yields, so they are looking for solutions.”
Early on, micronutrients were embraced by fruit and vegetable growers, Georgis says. But in more recent years — and in some parts of the world — growers use micronutrients on some row crops.
“Most uses are in vegetables, fruits, and berries,” Georgis says. “However, the largest uses in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and South Africa are in soybean and corn. In Central America the largest markets are in rice, pineapple, sugarcane, and coffee.”
The company’s Brandt Smart product line was designed for soybean, corn, sugar cane, Georgis says. “Adoption has been great in Brazil and South Africa. We are also very strong in Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia. All these countries use (micronutrients) on their row crops.”
It’s a trend that’s growing.
“No matter what part of the world you are in, a crop needs a balanced nutrition program,” Nelson says. “The new, higher-yielding varieties require more nutrients. We’re seeing more options for micronutrients than in the past. Growers need to be educated on not only the need for micronutrients, but they also need to understand the best way to apply those micronutrients to their crops to gain the maximum return on their investment.”