MANAGING director of fertiliser blending firm Newport-Fersan Dennis Valdez is pushing for farmers to take a more scientific approach to fertilising their crops rather than depending on old knowledge which most times result in inefficiencies.
Valdez, who was speaking recently at a Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association forum examining the topic, “Uncertainty in the Global Economy caused by the Ukraine & Russia War”, said with fertiliser prices tripling in some cases, it’s time for farmers to rethink how they use the product to boost output especially given that for most, fertiliser accounts for 43 per cent of the total cost of production. Fertiliser prices in the last year have risen from $4,000 per bag to $13,000 per bag in some cases.
“Jamaica is very traditional in everything, not bad, but in a situation like today, we have to become more efficient,” he said before outlining that farmers tend to use “what our parents and grandparents used in the past” when it comes to fertilising crops.
“We are using blends that were created probably 40 or 50 years ago, and when we talk to a farmer [to show them new more efficient blends], they don’t want to change,” Valdez continued.
To illustrate his point, Valdez told a story.
“The first time [Newport-Fersan] decided to go serious with a scientific approach, we approached a young farmer, he said. Valdez added that a young farmer was chosen because it is believed that they are more receptive of new ideas which they will then transmit to older people.”
“So we sponsor this young man and we gave him all the inputs for one year. We developed a nutritional programme for his crops and gave him all the fertiliser free, based on the programme we designed for him. I saw him one day at the plant and he was trying to hide from me. I caught up with him and asked what was he doing at the plant, and he said he was buying fertiliser. And I said, ‘Is it that you don’t trust me?’ He said, ‘No, I am just applying a little spice to this thing’,” Valdez said shaking his hand in a way as if he was using it to apply fertiliser to plants.
He said that episode illustrates to him that getting people to change and buy exactly what they want is a hard task.
The Newport-Fersan boss said he met with Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr a few weeks ago and relayed to him that based on his observation “one of the main problems we have with the Jamaican farming community is that they over-fertilise.” He looked at me and said, ‘are you serious, are you telling me as an input supplier that people are buying too much fertiliser?’ I said yes, not only are they buying too much, they don’t buy what they need.”
He said, detecting the problem, his company decided to set up a technical department to work with farmers to ensure that each dollar spent growing crops boosts revenues exponentially. With that programme, Valdez said the company would go to a farm, take soil samples for testing and based on the result and the crop to be grown, a nutritional programme is developed for the crops. But even then he notes, “People are afraid of embracing or trying new technology because they have limited resources.”
However, for him, “buying an expensive product and in addition to that, not an efficient product is not a good recipe.”
He showed data on crop yields with the scientifically blended fertiliser versus with the traditional fertilisers which are used as a “one size fits all”.
The data show that for onions, output from lands using the scientifically blended fertiliser (the booster regime) was 25 per cent more than the lands which used the traditional regime. At the same time, costs fell 39 per cent per acre for the farmer.
The end result was that for every $1 spent by the farmer using the booster regime, the benefit was $96 compared to the farmer only getting a benefit of $47 for every $1 spent using the traditional regime.
Valdez outlined that his company is pushing to get farmers to use only what they want and no more because it makes good business sense for Newport-Fersan. “Why are we going to have fertiliser if we can’t sell [it],” he asked rhetorically.
“In a country that imports much of what we consume, this is not good because we always say it is very easy to import,” he added while hinting it’s in his company’s best interest to work with farmers.
Valdez said he wants to work with the Ministry of Agriculture in encouraging farmers to change as part of improving Jamaica’s food security.