Frustrated and Confused

Just before Christmas I spent a week visiting farmers in various parts of NZ mainly talking about soil, fertilizer and our products (although as is often the case the conversations ranged far and wide). However I came away with a surprising impression.

On my return home my wife asked me what was the mood of farmers, and to my own surprise, I replied “Frustrated and…  confused!”


Farmers appear to accept that Super and similar fertilizer are not working as they used to. Hearing my background in fertilizer they often ask me why – their co-ops appear to be giving them few answers other than “More Super” or “More Lime” but increasingly that reply isn’t washing. I certainly am no expert but I recognise some things have changed and they will have an effect

  • From the 1950’s until the 1980’s pretty much all the Super in NZ and Australia was manufactured with phosphate rock from Nauru and Christmas Island. These days the Super is manufactured with completely different rocks, from different countries and different geological structures. In fact even the manufacturing formulation has changed as different amounts of sulphuric acid can be required these days compared with in past due to the different phosphate rocks used. So while the P and S specification have not changed there will be differences. That shouldn’t be surprising to a farmer – when you buy seed you will consider not just the general type but also variety for example, as not all products perform evenly.
  • While the traditional industry are happy to report the (correct) fact that many trials have been done with Super, and show it is very effective, most of the trial work was done in the 1950-1980’s – so it was done with different product manufactured with different raw materials than today’s Super. As far as I am aware, little independent research has been undertaken to understand the differences, as the industry would have to admit (even to themselves) that 1950’s Super and 2010’s Super are not strictly equivalent
  •  The soil that your fathers and grandfathers started to apply Super to was a completely different beast to the one you are working with today. There is absolutely no doubt the traditional industry did NZ and Australian farmers great service with the development of the Super based industry, as the soils were largely deficient. But now, 50-60 years later, after numerous fertilizer and lime applications, soil weathering, farming, ploughing, different stock types and rotations  etc,  there is no doubt the pasture / crops etc you are working with are in quite different soil.


Farmers are these days being assaulted with a raft of new information, both from their own research and from companies approaching them with products  that each claim are the next best thing to sliced bread! If the product they have been using is not working for them and 50 new solutions being offered by unknown companies, how do you evaluate which is correct or suitable. With trust increasing lost in the co-ops as independent advisers, not much more faith in the input on fertlisers from the stock and station agents, they don’t know where to turn to make a judgment – hence confusion reigns

Solutions and Questions

So where do Farmers turn to – well I don’t have a definitive answer to that just yet! Here I would usually recommend Independent Consultants but I have to qualify that with a suggestion that you select those who are also willing to recommend innovative products along with traditional products, otherwise you may as well just ask you co-op representative (and probably not one who insists on “minimum 1000 NZ trials” as one did when we talked to him about our product!)  If they are not prepared to take the time is listen, research and understand the new information flowing around the world, they are not worth wasting your time or money with!

As you will all know, we at the Growing Group promote our products CarboPhos© and CarboUrea© which we think are pretty useful and innovative tools for farmers. So of course the information we give can be considered by some as self serving but we intend to try to help with the best information we can.  Contrary to common belief we will not bag the co-ops for the sake of it, we still hope one day they will be marketing our products directly to you all (so far despite our offers they have shown no interest). But we wont omit information because it may be somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t have all the answers but what I do know with my 30 plus years in fertiliser I am happy to share with honesty so feel free to ask,  and what I don’t know I will be happy to ask others and share the response!

Chris Copplestone

Chris has more than 30 years working in the fertiliser industry, mainly internationally supplying raw materials and finished products to and from Australasia, Asia, Africa and former Soviet Union. Chris owned a sheep & beef farm in NZ for more than 10 years which generated his interest in developing modern fertilisers.

Chris is Managing Director of The Growing Group, developers of CarboPhos® and CarboUrea®

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