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Editor's Note: Dr. Scott Fleetwood is vice president of North American sales and marketing for Nitragin, Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.

AM: Please tell us about Nitragin.

SF: Nitragin is the oldest inoculant company in the United States, producing and selling products for more than 106 years.

In 1991 Merck KgaA of Darmstadt, Germany, bought the business. Our parent company, which is not affiliated with Merck USA, has annual sales of approximately $7.5 billion.

Nitragin has a rich history of product innovation and introduction of new technologies. We were the first to introduce powder products and developed the first granular product, Soil Implant. We also developed the first commercially viable liquid inoculant products, Cell Tech and Cell Tech SCI. Continuing with that tradition, we are currently launching our new, patented Promoter Technologyâ„¢ into several markets.

AM: What products and services does Nitragin currently offer?

SF: We offer a broad range of standard inoculant products for all leguminous crops. We estimate that 20 percent of the U.S. soybeans are inoculated, twice the acreage of four years ago. The biggest driver of new usage acres in 2004 was the introduction of our Promoter Technology product, Optimize, which produced a return-on-investment that justified a grower incorporating it into his program. Also, its enhanced compatibility with other seed treatments such as fungicides and insecticides made handling significantly simpler for the retailer.

In 2005 we will launch this technology into peanuts under the trade name of Optimize LIFT and into alfalfa under Optimize Gold. In peanuts, we will utilize our market-leading inoculant product, LIFT, as the delivery system for this technology. Thus, the peanut grower will be getting the best of both worlds.

AM: How does Promoter Technology differ from inoculants?

SF: Our premium inoculants act as the delivery mechanism for the Promoter Technology. Significant benefits observed from the use of the Promoter Technology include: (1) early emergence; (2) improved crop stand; (3) larger root mass; (4) more vigorous plant growth; (5) earlier canopy closer (up to seven days when used in conjunction with fungicides and/or insecticides); and (6) enhanced yields. These effects have been observed not only on new ground but also on rotated ground that has been in production for several years. During the past five years we have conducted 460 tests by independent researchers such as crop consultants, professional farm management firms and universities and have shown an average yield increase of 12.5 percent versus the check. These tests were conducted in a wide geography, ranging from the upper Midwest to the Delta.

AM: How are you launching this new technology in the marketplace and communicating its benefits to growers?

SF: The launch of Optimize in 2004 represents the largest, most successful product launch in Nitragin's history. Recognizing that this new technology brings additional benefits to the grower, we created a new category, Promoter Technology, to ensure growers understand Optimize is not an inoculant. In addition, the brand message for Optimize focuses on ROI to the grower - one of the key benefits growers look for in new products. The packaging is innovative and glossy, designed to extend the brand message all the way through purchase. Couple these marketing ideas with the largest dedicated sales force in our market segment and you can see how Optimize reached the level of success it did.

AM: What is the future for this technology and its fit in the Nitragin organization?

SF: The future is very exciting for Nitragin. Optimize offers an excellent ROI for growers in terms of yield and protein content in soybeans and yield, grade and earlier maturity in peanuts. The more we work with this unique Promoter Technology, the more opportunities come to light that we plan to offer to the marketplace. One example is it appears the enhanced vigor that plants experience from Optimize allows them to better tolerate disease pressure.

As you are aware, Asian soybean rust has been discovered in the U.S. Based on research conducted in Brazil, the combination of Optimize plus a fungicide treatment showed up to a 14 percent improvement in soybean yields over a fungicide treatment without Optimize. Optimize enhances early-season plant vigor, which gives better plant health and allows fungicides to work better when Asian rust occurs. AM

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