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Fertilizer company pushes organic inputs to boost crop yield

Published:Friday | February 27, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Growing cauliflowers from organic fertilizer.

Relatively newcomer to the local farming material distribution business, Sapphire Agriculture Jamaica Limited (SAJ), hopes to grab at least 40 per cent of the market with its blends of organic fertilizers, amid a trend towards use of the more natural soil enhancer.

The fertilizer company, whose parent Sapphire Agriculture LLC is based in Florida, United States, says it has targeted larger fertilizer users such as the coffee and sugar cane industries to boost its push for market share.

SAJ set up shop in Jamaica last February and distributes islandwide from its Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston, base as well as through farms stores and AgroGrace.

SAJ distributes 14 fertilizer blends, including two new additions, products which are manufactured by its Dominican Republic affiliate, Sapphire Agriculture (Dom Rep) for local distribution, General Manager John Allen told the Financial Gleaner.

The company indicated in 2013 that it would build out a fertilizer processing plant in Jamaica and shell out some US$2 million in investment, but shifted the plant to the Dominican Republic, Allen said, until sufficient market share had been garnered in Jamaica.

"That decision at the time was later changed to start with a smaller plant in the Dom Rep until such time when we gain sufficient market share here that would make economic sense. Then we would probably go that route," the general manager said.

The local operation is staffed by four, Allen said.

Aggressive push

Manufacturing in the Dom Rep started in November after the company shifted production there, he said, adding that the company has been making a more aggressive push since launching its local operations last year.

The market in Jamaica at this time is about 45,000 tonnes annually. In 2013, local companies manufactured just about 27,000 tonnes and 26,000 in 2014, the SAJ general manager said.

"We are really trying to get between 40 to 50 per cent of the market ASAP," he said.

SAJ now competes with local players Newport Fersan Jamaica Limited, which blends its fertilizers locally, and Diamond-R, which imports from Florida to feed its local operations.

SAJ therefore stack up in third place currently, even as it aims to diversify the available fertilizers in the market.

The company is now introducing two new blends. The new fertilizer blends carry 20 to 30 per cent organic matter mixed in, the company noted in an advertorial.

"One of the main features of our fertilizer is the fact that we incorporate organic matter which is derived from 100 per cent processed chicken litter in all the fertilizer blends that we sell," Allen said, noting that take-up has been favourable so far.

One St Mary-based organic grower has ordered a tonne of the organic fertilizer in the last week, he added.

"We also sell to the market, this organic matter fertilizer Fertiplus, and that can be used as a standalone organic fertilizer," he said.

Coffee industry on board

The organic fertilizers have also been taken up by the coffee industry, he said, noting that Wallenford Coffee Company is now using the mixture in their potting mix (a medium in which to grow plants in a pot or other durable container) "because of the kind of results they are getting from it".

According to the SAJ, "a good amount of organic matter prevents leaching and run-off from the excess and unused portions of fertilizers in the soil. The nature of the fertilizer is that portions of it become locked and unavailable in the soil for crops to use it to grow. Organic matter binds the fertilizer underground, allowing it to stay in the soil longer."

Since the average local farmer does not do leaf analysis, the real benefits of fertilizer use to crop yield may not be noted, the company said.

SAJ hopes, therefore, to boost its sales by pushing the benefits of organic matter and better soil management to crop yield.