BUYERS WANT CONSISTENCY

17 January 1997




BUYERS WANT CONSISTENCY

MOST farmers who purchase fertilisers on price alone and with little regard for quality soon decide it is not worth the hassle.

That is what the Fertiliser Manufacturers Association discovered from a survey conducted by Young Agricultural (Specialist Market Research) in Nov 1996.

"When buying fertilisers, farmers have a good understanding of what to look for, and they also know what they want by way of service from those who supply them," says FMA director general Barry Higgs.

The survey was based on panel interviews conducted in dairy, mixed and mainly arable farming areas. All the groups were clear about the value of fertilisers and all wanted consistency in the products they bought.

"They wanted fertiliser to be the same from bag to bag, free from dust, of a regular spread of particle size and free-flowing," explains Mr Higgs. "In other words they were looking for good spreadability and in achieving this there was overwhelming endorsement of the importance of buying from a known source."

However, there were a few very keen buyers who were willing to devote time to tracking down cheaper product and prepared to deal with any ensuing problems.

All the panels thought it important that the UK market should be as open and free as possible. The general view was that a price differential would always exist between well-known fertiliser of good quality, and that of unknown and possibly doubtful quality, notes Mr Higgs.

Few of the farmers surveyed said they would be tempted to depart from their established sources of supply. Indeed, there were individuals in all groups who valued fertiliser quality and freedom from doubt and difficulty so highly that they would always stay with the product they knew and trusted, almost regardless of price.

Farmers were aware of the cost penalties that can result from using poor quality fertiliser. That can typically be up to £30/ha (£12/acre) when comparing poor quality with good quality straight nitrogen fertiliser on winter wheat, notes Mr Higgs. "Farmers know this instinctively, but look for trial results to prove the point," he adds.

However, Mr Higgs acknowledges that recognition of the Spread Pattern (SP) quality mark scheme, which the FMA operates for straight nitrogen fertiliser, was patchy.

SP is a UK initiative which categorises straight nitrogen products in terms of their spreadability. Products are evaluated independently by Silsoe Research Institute and must be truly representative of that normally available on the UK market.

SP5 was quoted spontaneously in the discussion held in the arable areas as identifying top grade product. But elsewhere the mark was not widely recognised. That is something the FMA will be addressing, says Mr Higgs. &#42

Recent improvements in packaging were appreciated, especially the more secure attachment of the plastic inner to the outer load-carrying element of big bags. All groups had horror stories of the consequences of inner liners falling through into spreader hoppers.

While the importance of storing fertiliser under cover was recognised, that was not always easy, particularly if cereal or straw stocks had still to be run down.

"The value of soil sampling and analysis for nutrient status and pH, as advocated by those trained under the Fertiliser Advisers Certification and Training Scheme was also acknowledged. However, it is not as widely practised as it should be if soil nutrient levels are to be kept at the optimum," Mr Higgs says.

Similarly, the importance of properly maintaining and calibrating fertiliser spreaders appeared to be understood. But other survey data suggests many farmers should pay more attention to this.

FERTILISER FACTS

&#8226 Farmer panels questioned.

&#8226 Fertiliser quality appreciated, but spreader also seen as very important.

&#8226 Cost penalty of inferior products acknowledged.

&#8226 SP rating not widely known.

&#8226 Value of soil sampling noted, but not widely used.

Consistent fertiliser quality is what most growers want most of all, says the FMAs Barry Higgs.


FERTILISER FACTS


&#8226 Farmer panels questioned.

&#8226 Fertiliser quality appreciated, but spreader also seen asvery important.

&#8226 Cost penalty of inferior products acknowledged.

&#8226 SP rating not widely known.

&#8226 Value of soil sampling noted, but not widely used.


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