The 4R’s and the Fertilizer Supply Chain

The stewardship of land and water is becoming a driving force in farming and the fertilizer retailer is taking up the challenge to help implement these changes.  The 4R’s are universal and adaptive to many different forms of farming.  They will affect both large and small, organic and nonorganic farmers as well as those who market themselves as being somewhere in between.

The 4R’s is nondiscriminatory as the concept can be applied in any farming environment.  Technology does not have to be complex to use the 4R’s as farmers in various parts of the world can attest. However, in technology driven markets such as Canada, Europe, and the United States, technology will play a key role in helping to make more precise prescriptions as well as in the application methods used.  Technology is driving a more precise version of 4R Stewardship.  Take our broadcast spreaders, for example.  At one time these stalwarts of productivity were designed to apply one rate across a set spreader width.  Today, these units are able to not only adjust spread rate but also pattern width and pattern position with the interconnected movement of spinner fan frame side to side and front to aft, to the rate of product coming out of the product.  The inclusion of a multiproduct bin makes for a limitless amount of pattern combinations and rates.  With the choice of power units available today, we have a vast range of equipment options to choose from.  No one would argue that the equipment we have today can perform more than ever before.

What products will you apply?  Will its physical properties and crop response patterns be on par to the equipment demands to do an accurate job?

It does not take a whole lot of imagination to see the opportunities for those who are looking to excel in quality, consistency, and compatibility to meet regional demands.  If you have been around a few truck loads and rail cars of various products, you realize that there are differences from time to time and load to load.  As we strive for higher efficiencies in our fertilizer programs, we will find ourselves pushing the envelope on application accuracy and placement.  Will things like SGN size, fines, and increased ease of storage and mixing be driven by the Right Rate at the Right Place of our products?  One would think this would be the case.

As we enter this new realm, products less known may find themselves being a good fit in certain markets.  How will the supply chain adapt?  Will we need a few more smaller bins or tanks for more precise windows of application?  How will it be sourced?  Will we need more regional terminals for less than rail car shipments?  How will new products effectively enter a grain market that is during a very tough multiyear economic cycle?

The Last Mile in Retail Services

Retailing, regardless of type, is undergoing a dynamic change in how products and services are delivered.  Retailers like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and others are advancing their customer value proposition with the delivery of heavy products to the customer while maximizing inventory turns and minimizing the cost of money by developing Last Mile Delivery Services.  Kind of sounds like the fertilizer business, doesn’t it?   Delivery services are being leveraged to build value to the customer as well as reducing excess inventory which minimizes carrying costs and asset value erosion.  The phrase “Last Mile Delivery” is coined to describe the entire process.  Granted, we in the ag supply industry haven’t been driven by e-commerce or purchase of kitchen appliances.  We may call it, “keeping in product”, “keeping up with the planter” or “beating the rain”.  The 4R process will revolutionize the way in which we manage inventory and its timely delivery, based on crop stage and environmental conditions.  All the while we will be factoring in various business constraints and market opportunities on the local and regional.  Might we see a supply chain that is even more driven by local and regional crop needs?

The days coming are very exciting ones.  Those who are nimble and adaptable, always keeping their suppliers well informed, will stand to offer the best in 4R services.


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