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VIEW FROM THE TOP
PCS LAUNCHES FERTILE MINDS TO EDUCATE PUBLIC
Editor’s Note: Dave Delaney is president of marketing and sales at Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. (PCS), the world’s largest fertilizer enterprise producing the three primary nutrients - phosphate, potash and nitrogen - and is a leading supplier to three distinct market categories: agriculture, animal nutrition, and industrial chemicals.

AM: From a marketing standpoint, how did PCS weather the extremely high prices of fertilizer in the spring of 2001 as it relates to the fertilizer products it produces?

DD:
There were three factors that helped us weather the high fertilizer prices during the spring of 2001. The first is that we are basic in all three nutrients. Although phosphorus and potassium sales suffered due to high nitrogen prices, we were able to realize higher than planned revenue on the nitrogen. This was enhanced by the second factor, our natural gas hedge position. Although natural gas prices approached $10/MMBTU in January and remained over $5 for most of the spring, PCS paid significantly below market price. Finally, we were able to take advantage of our strong positions in the non-fertilizer markets and shift tonnage originally planned for fertilizer sales to many of our industrial customers.

AM: Tell us about your new marketing thrust called "Fertile Minds."

DD:
The idea for Fertile Minds was actually sparked by a customer comment. During recent focus group interviews, an ag dealer said "someone in our industry needs to take the lead" in educating the public, press and policymakers about the benefits of crop nutrients. That comment struck home because the truth of the matter is that the fertilizer industry really does not have its act together when it comes to addressing its critics.

So in July, we launched an integrated communications program designed to answer our critics, address misperceptions and serve as a rallying point for our industry. The first and most visible step of the program is our ad campaign targeting policymakers in Washington. We are running single and two-page ads in Washington D.C. issues of Time Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek. Furthermore, we kicked off Fertile Minds with a major event at the Southwestern Fertilizer Conference - the same week our ads began running in Washington. As a follow-up to that event, and to complement the ad campaign, we will be arming dealers across the country with a series of educational materials that can be used on a local level.

AM: What has your focus group work regarding the knowledge of lawmakers about fertilizer products told you?

DD:
Our Washington research came on the heels of some surveys we conducted with the general public. In April, we asked more than 100 urbanites and suburbanites to answer some very rudimentary questions about the origins and use of crop nutrients. By and large fertilizers proved to be a mystery to most metropolitan residents. In May, we tried to determine if lawmakers knew any better than their constituents by conducting qualitative and quantitative research with 163 lawmakers and/or their staff members. The good news is that policymakers know more than the average city dweller, but they don’t know enough. Perhaps the most disturbing finding was the utter lack of knowledge lawmakers have about the three primary nutrients:
• 70 percent hadn’t a clue where nitrogen comes from.
• 70 percent couldn’t tell us where potash comes from.
• 61 percent had no idea where phosphate comes from.




Also discouraging is how policymakers view our industry in relation to the organic movement. We asked 150 lawmakers to rate both organic and conventional fertilizers on a scale of 1 to 100 (100 being the best). Organic fertilizer scored a higher preference rating than N, P and K. These figures offer a sobering snapshot of the distorted view people have of crop nutrients and the extent of the challenges we face in and out of Washington.

AM: What is PCS Sales doing in the nutrient management area to market a positive message about nutrient management at a time of continued low farm prices?

DD:
Nutrient management relates to applying the correct amounts of plant nutrients for highest economic yields. Timing, placement, and sources of plant nutrients should be considered in order to maximize agronomic effects and minimize any environmental impact. PCS Sales has always supported responsible nutrient management. The Fertile Minds campaign is aimed at educating the public about the importance of commercial plant nutrients in today’s food production. Part of this campaign points out that by using a good nutrient management plan, farmers can be both profitable and environmentally responsible in producing food for the growing world. AM


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