Three reasons fertilizer retailers should promote nitrogen efficiency

14980820705_b8d28549c9_nAt first, the idea that fertilizer companies should help farmers become more efficient with fertilizer use is counterintuitive. After all, fertilizer retailers are in business to make money, so it makes sense that they would want to maximize sales of their core product.

Fortunately, using fertilizer more efficiently – even if this means less in some cases — can create more profit for retailers and growers. Fertilizer retailers have good reasons to incorporate fertilizer efficiency in their business strategies.

  • Customer retention: If customers save money, they usually return again and again. Fertilizer efficiency saves farmers money by helping them apply a more accurate amount of nutrients needed by their crops. Retailers will gain loyal customers.
  • Value-added products and services: Some products that help farmers increase fertilizer efficiency also provide new business opportunities for retailers. By widening their sales offerings, retailers can continue to make a profit while reducing fertilizer lost to the environment.
  • Meeting supply chain demand: Fertilizer retailers must recognize that their customers increasingly will request products and services to improve fertilizer efficiency. That's because growers are being asked by major food retailers and companies for sustainably-grown grain.

Sustainability is no longer a niche issue. It is becoming an integral part of any successful business.

Despite those benefits, a recent study in the Journal of Environmental Quality documents that farmers who get their information from fertilizer retailers are less likely to use nitrogen efficiency tests and products, such as nitrogen soil testing, plant tissue testing, and nitrogen transformation inhibitors – each of which can help decrease nutrient losses from crops and improve water quality and climate stability.

Another survey found that 82 percent of farmers in Iowa would turn to a fertilizer dealer first for information on fertilizer application rates. Clearly, retailers have influence.

Retailers changing course

Some fertilizer retailers are ready to change course when it comes to promoting nitrogen efficiency practices and products.

Industry predictions for 2015 include two encouraging trends:

  • The use of precision agriculture will soar.
  • There will be wider adoption of the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship (the Right fertilizer source, at the Right rate, at the Right time, and in the Right place).

Sustainability is no longer a niche issue. It is becoming an integral part of any successful business.

Leading the way

An outstanding example of innovation is United Suppliers’ SUSTAIN program. United Suppliers is a cooperative of locally-controlled ag retailers. Its SUSTAIN program is training the company’s owner-retailers on best practices and precision agriculture technologies that improve nutrient use efficiency and soil health, all while keeping growers productive.

In turn, farmers are using the SUSTAIN toolkit to guide their fertilizer decisions.

As other fertilizer retailers follow the example of United Suppliers and SUSTAIN, they will reap the business benefits of sustainability – and so will their farmer clients and the environment.

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