What do crops need to grow? Soil. Water. Sunlight. And let’s not forget nutrients—crops need food to grow food. In just under a month, WinField United will begin to offer those nutrients while filling an important gap in our business portfolio. Effective Oct. 1, United Suppliers Crop Nutrients joins WinField United as the final part of our merger. This addition sets us up to offer a total agronomy solution to our customers.
“This merger has been two years in the making,” says Todd Minnihan, vice president of the crop nutrients business. “We are excited to be finally reaching the point where we can plan with the rest of the WinField United team on how we can best serve our customers.”
Todd leads the United Suppliers crop nutrients business today; on Oct. 1, he will report directly to Mike Vande Logt, EVP and COO, WinField United. Todd and his team will operate the crop nutrients business as a separate entity within the overall crop inputs and insights portfolio with its own P&L. WinField United Crop Nutrients, which will continue operating out of Ames, Iowa, will sit alongside WinField United Seed and CPP, Forage Genetics International, and Ag Technology.
Crop nutrients 101
United Suppliers has been in the fertilizer business since its start in 1963. In the past decade, they tripled the business by shifting their focus from solely selling commodities to becoming an integral part of their retail customers’ businesses by providing market intelligence tools and risk management and supply chain optimization services. In 2013, the business entered the Canadian market and most recently added personnel to grow in different U.S. geographies.
“It takes a significant amount of effort and expertise to be successful in commodity fertilizer markets long-term,” says Todd. “Making money in fertilizer markets is more about managing risk and optimizing the supply chain than up-front margins.”
He goes on to explain that the success of the crop nutrients business has been due to “helping our owners be successful in fertilizer by being transparent with them on how changes in the global fertilizer markets will impact their local markets. These market intelligence insights allow our owners to focus on what is important to them, improving their business grower by grower.”
The crop nutrients business has three groups: ag fertilizers, industrial and Transportation Express. Ag fertilizers makes up a majority of the business and focus on supplying product to owners in a cost-effective manner while leveraging their consolidated demand.
The industrial business was created in 2016 and focuses on selling products into adjacent markets such as sourcing MAP and urea for animal feed, importing automotive grade urea for production of diesel exhaust fluid and marketing it to ag retailers.
Transportation Express has significant expertise in importing ocean vessels and coordinating barge and rail logistics. This part of the business also manages a successful truck freight business that services the crop nutrients business fertilizer shipping needs. Transportation Express also markets their truck freight services to outside customers.
“Having spent the last half of my career at Koch Industries, I admired how United Suppliers grew their fertilizer business through a value-added approach,” says Todd.
Core to the approach is the Platinum Alignment™ offer where retailers commit to source 100 percent of the crop nutrients from United Suppliers. In return, they receive services unique to the market such as assistance with timing their buys to stay competitive, risk management services and updates on fertilizer market dynamics through several different publications.
Because of the expanded geographical reach of WinField United post-merger, the crop nutrients business will have the opportunity to service new customers as they become part of the team.
“Geographically we can supply most retailers with a little planning on the front end,” says Todd. “With our scale, global reach and supplier relationships, we can partner with retailers to develop very efficient supply chains whether they are looking for a total portfolio solution or are just looking for help on one or two products.”
“We are looking forward to building new relationships with WinField United customers that we have not had the opportunity to service in the past,” says Anita LaVelle, national sales manager for crop nutrients.
She explains that although the crop nutrients business will continue to focus on servicing Platinum Alignment™ customers, they realize that most new customers want to start small with a new distributor relationship.
“We have our best success with new customers by learning about their business, listening to their needs and then building out a plan to help them that goes beyond just a transaction,” she says.
As Chris Policinski, president and CEO has said, our industry is facing headwinds. For the crop nutrients business, this means depressed global ag and fertilizer markets for the next 18 to 24 months where the entire value chain is making lower margins from supplier to grower. Additionally, in the states, new nitrogen production will disrupt and change trade flows and global capacity increases in phosphorus and potash will impact markets across the U.S. and Canada.
Despite these market challenges, the crop nutrients team is looking forward to Oct. 1 and beyond.
“The team could not be more excited about becoming a part of the WinField United family,” says Todd. “We have yet to scratch the surface of the synergies we will gain being part of WinField United and are looking forward to our fertilizer customers now having access to some incredible ag-focused decision-making tools to help them grow.”
Todd and his team are working with the Ag Customer Team and the different WinField United sales teams to learn more about new customer needs and to identify where they should focus planning efforts.
“Not every customer wants to be treated the same,” says Todd. “We’re going to take a very intentional approach to ensure we continue serving our existing customers well. We’ll also bring the right combination of tools and resources from WinField United to our existing and new customer-owners.”
The most important message from all this: We want to always keep the focus on providing tailored solutions to customers. As we merge, keeping communication open across all customer facing teams will be the key to achieving this.
“We’ve worked hard to prepare for Oct. 1,” says Todd. “And we’ll work even harder to provide the best combination of services and solutions for our customers.”