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VIEW FROM THE TOP
AGROTAIN INTERNATIONAL EDUCATES MARKET ON ECONOMICS OF NITROGEN INVESTMENT
Editor's Note: Michael D. Stegmann is president of AGROTAIN International and president of Lange-Stegmann. He shares his perspectives on his company's approach to differentiating its products as it markets nitrogen fertilizers.

AM: Please give us a brief background on AGROTAIN International and your involvement with the company.

MS: AGROTAIN International was formed in July 2000 when Lange-Stegmann Company acquired the AGROTAIN technology from IMC Global. Lange-Stegmann is a St. Louis, Mo., based regional fertilizer wholesaler and terminal operator which felt that for the AGROTAIN technology to be successful a separate organization focused solely on AGROTAIN was required. AGROTAIN International's mission is to educate all stakeholders from growers to dealers to academia to regulators about the tools available for effective and efficient nitrogen management.

I am the third generation to be involved with the family business and have been with Lange-Stegmann for over 25 years. My responsibilities in 1979 were sweeping floors and stacking fertilizer bags in the warehouse. In 2003 I was appointed president of Lange-Stegmann, in addition to my role as president of AGROTAIN International.

AM: Were you concerned that this year's higher nitrogen costs would cause growers to cut back on their crop nutrient purchases?

MS: There is always concern about how growers will react when input costs increase. But this year's higher nitrogen prices presented us a unique opportunity to show growers that using AGROTAIN is an even more logical and necessary choice. Remember what AGROTAIN does -- it stops nitrogen losses resulting from volatilization in urea and UAN fertilizers. We saw a very large increase in the use of AGROTAIN, which I believe is partially due to growers' motivation to protect their nitrogen investment.

AM: What was AGROTAIN International's strategy going into this season? And did this approach apply across all market segments?

MS: We have been growing dramatically over the past several years, so our first priority has been to ensure we have the necessary manufacturing, technical and administrative support in place to meet the rapidly growing demand.

Our strategy has always been to educate growers across all markets on how AGROTAIN helps them get the most from their nitrogen resources. With this year's higher N costs, we've focused on the economics of growers' nitrogen investment. Not surprisingly, dealers and growers have been receptive to this message. In educating growers, our goal was to show the how, where, when and why aspects of our products' use.

We create traditional resources such as informative CDs, DVDs, regular Web site updates and brochures for our sales team to use. But this year we've been more creative in our education and promotion efforts. For example, last winter we introduced The Celebration Series, a collection of prints designed to capture special memories of farm life. The first print debuted at Commodity Classic earlier this year and paid tribute to the hard work, dedication and lifestyle of farm families. As a traffic builder, we gave prints to growers and had a drawing for a framed, artist-signed version. The Celebration Series also created excitement at our booth at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.

And, just recently at the Southwest Fertilizer Conference in San Antonio, we unveiled The Nitrogen Cycle™, a customized American Ironhorse Texas Chopper, to help educate dealers and growers on how nitrogen is used and how it can be lost. Our goal with this project is to position AGROTAIN International and our people as the nitrogen experts who can help growers learn about nitrogen loss potentials. The bike, customized to look like AGROTAIN-treated liquid and granular fertilizer is powering the engine, drew a lot of interest at the meeting. We look forward to bringing it to other shows this year.

At harvest we follow up with dealers and growers to make sure they see results from using an AGROTAIN product. Our goal is to demonstrate that almost every grower using urea or UAN can benefit from using one or more of our products. And we try to show dealers how they can be profitable by selling AGROTAIN to these growers. In the end, we want both dealers and growers to understand that when it comes to soil fertility, making the best agronomic, economic and environmental decisions includes AGROTAIN.

AM: How have your personal experience and career history prepared you for this challenge?

MS: After more than 25 years in the fertilizer industry, I've experienced many different market conditions. One constant through those market ups and downs is that growers want to make good business decisions. We are fortunate to have the right product at a time when growers are demanding more efficient products for economic reasons and better stewardship for environmental reasons. Our company is unique because we have the world's only commercially available urease inhibitor. Because no other company sells products like ours, we've been the industry leader in creating the new category of enhanced-efficiency fertilizers.

AM: How does AGROTAIN International equip its sales force?

MS: With sales in 52 countries and sales offices in five countries, we touch nearly every crop and region of the world. We spend a lot of time on training our teams and disseminating information between sales territories and individuals. Our research and development group constantly brings new information and ideas to our marketing team, which then arms the sales team to better communicate with dealers and ultimately growers. We use this information to reach growers in a variety of ways. For example, we hosted a tour of grower meetings across the United States, and we designed billboards to be displayed on highways leading to a major grower trade show in Brazil. Our sales team is optimistic and has a "we can do it" attitude. The sales reps come up with their own creative solutions, such as forming alliances with wheat-grower groups in Kansas and Oklahoma. AGROTAIN.com is another good resource for our sales team.

In 2004 we beefed up our marketing department and have been able to deliver many new tools to our sales team. Andrew Semple, our vice president of international sales, leads that effort and has done a terrific job. As a result of these efforts, we now have a very broad and complete set of sales and marketing tools available to our sales team and customers around the world.

AM: Knowing that dealers would have grower customers who were very concerned about the price situation, how did your sales force counsel dealers on this issue?

MS: We have found dealers and growers more receptive than ever to our products this year. One reason was record-high nitrogen prices. Our sales team was dedicated to showing dealers and growers that purchasing nitrogen this year was a significant investment and that using an AGROTAIN product to protect that investment was a good way to ensure that crops saw maximum benefits from dollars spent on the nitrogen. Judging from our growth this year, we believe our message was heard loud and clear. AM


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