Manufacturers Optimistic on U.S. Sales of NPK, Micronutrients in 2021

It’s been a mixed bag when it comes to fertilizer in recent years. According to data supplied by sister publication CropLife® magazine’s CropLife 100 survey, the nation’s top ag retailers experienced a steep decline in revenue derived from fertilizer during calendar year 2020. “Overall, (retail) revenues fell 6.6%, according to the data, from $13.7 billion in sales during 2019 to $12.8 billion (in 2020). This dropped the market share for crop nutrients among all crop inputs/services to 40% (of retailer revenue), down 3% from 2019,” according to an article about the CropLife 100 survey.

But like many things in agriculture, it comes down to timing.

Advertisement

The CropLife 100 survey data didn’t necessarily tell the entire story for fertilizer during the latter portion of 2020. “In fact, there were hints that the fall 2020 fertilizer season was turning out better than expected when CropLife magazine put together its fall fertility outlook in the September 2020 edition,” according to the article.

Biostimulants and Micronutrients

All those macronutrients are supplemented with their micronutrient cousins.

“New modes of actions and pathways represented by enzymes and microbes aid in integrated pest management strategies, improve availability of soil and applied nutrients, and meet many of the high consumer standards of doing more with natural solutions,” says Jason Ward, Novozymes BioAg, Director of Commercial Operation – North America.

Of course, these products will only find a place in the market if they match their traditional counterparts.

“Conventional products work very well and set a high standard to achieve,” Ward says. “Novozymes robustly invests in proving the performance of its products in the lab, greenhouse, and fields. Our multi-partner strategy encourages access and investment in our newest solutions whether the in the Americas or the rest of the world.  We seek to combine our global leadership in microbial and enzymatic solutions with R&D, distribution, retail, seed, and farmer customers around the globe.

“The best farmers today are already doing an excellent job,” he continues. “These farmers are not expecting the next big thing, instead they understand the value of marginal gains. What can I do to become 1% better each year?”

Gains of any sort are key. If there’s no return on investment (ROI) then it doesn’t matter how effective a product is.

“Consistent ROI is still the biggest barrier to widespread adoption of additives and enhancements because it’s a moving target,” says Galynn Beer, AgroLiquid Product Management Lead. “High fertilizer prices and high grain prices quickly improve ROI of these products, but cheap fertilizer and challenging grain prices reduce their value. Utilization of these products often fluctuate with the economic cycles of agriculture. Consistency with producing ROI has been challenging but is improving with technology and more data points to assist with improved positioning with these products.”

“The primary factors currently for decisions are trends (growers see growing popularity), testimonials, and personal experience,” Beer says. “Purchases in this category are often made without supporting data because growers realize these products are still mostly in their infancy. Ultimately, growers would favor some sort of demonstration of cost/benefit, but they are also aware that often a positive result is over-generalized to represent what all growers can expect. Setting unrealistic expectations can set adoption back or cause a spike in sales followed by a drop-off if value isn’t realized as predicted.

“Stated another way, it’s mostly theory when it comes to these products,” Beer continues. “They contain carbon, and carbon has a unique ability to hold positively and negatively charged ions, so carbon should be effective across all nutrients by attaching to nutrients and preventing reaction with much stronger elements. Carbon releases nutrients readily, so the theory is attractive to growers with an awareness of the potential for nutrient loss and inefficiency. The actual holding capacity is highly variable across products and use rates, so more supporting data is needed to either confirm, or disprove, the theory.”