Whether we like it or not, fertiliser cooperatives, while originally set up to benefit their farmer owners, have eventually come to be controlled – in attitude and actions – by visionless executives and accountants, who have often totally lost the understanding of what their cooperative originally stood for; an ongoing mission to ensure that their shareholders and their environment continue to benefit from the very best research and development in fertiliser efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
This has become a cruel joke. Longer-term readers of www.groupone.co.nz will remember a view we expressed on the launch of the original website in 2011. I think it is worth rereading-
“The awarding of a $9.5 million Public Good Fund to Ballance late last year, for research into improving N and P efficiency and the development of biological pest control methods, hopefully reflects a great leap forward in attitude by Ballance.
While (Quinview) has concerns that the grant will be spent on a variety of ‘dead-end’ topics, rather than truly promising areas for advancement…I sense a desire to make breakthoughs in nutrient efficiency…..with the various research institutes and universities”.
Well, I was wrong. It is now 2015. What has happened? Ravensdown has since received similar funding. Unfortunately, the sum total of new environmentally-protective fertilisers released by them in the ensuing period is zero. Even more sadly, the single ‘new’ product that Ballance was promoting very heavily in 2014, SustaiN, was actually released by Summit-Quinphos in 2002! Previous clients and staff of Summit-Quinphos (now absorbed into Ballance) will recall that when Summit-Quinphos released this product, long before Ballance became involved in SQ, Ballance and their ‘independent’ experts’ damned the product with faint praise, despite the wealth of field trials and laboratory work supporting its improved efficiency. Now it has been ‘reinvented’ by Ballance. Someone in Wellington must have thought to ask where the $9.5 million went.
In 2013 and 2014 respectively, Ballance Chairman David Graham and CEO Larry Bilodeau both retired, both very proud of their abilities to ‘produce’ record rebates for farmer shareholders. Let’s be real here. These obscenely high rebates occured because (a) Ballance and Ravensdown no longer had competition from Summit-Quinphos, (b) Ballance were making incredible margins on Kapuni urea because of the very low price they pay for the natural gas, (c) Ravensdown’s executives were destroying their shareholders’ wealth by unwise entries into the very complex Australian market, effectively leaving Ballance with no price competition at all, and (d) Ballance held prices high, despite the large falls that were occuring in world markets, especially on a NZ$ basis. Prices should have been substantially reduced far earlier than they were. We should also have been seeing a continuous stream of new, high-tech, environmentally-protective products.
Unfortunately, the vision-vacuum produced in this management environment lends itself to the exploitation of dissatisfied farmers by both (i) unscrupulous purveyors of ‘muck & mystery’ products and beliefs, and (ii) so-called ‘independent experts’ who take the opportunity for lucrative rabble-rousing, while ignoring the root cause of the problem – the duopoly.
‘Independence’ – a very selectively used term by some
Dr Bert Quin is not ‘independent’, in the sense that he has interests in several companies involved in the development of new products and services. Unlike a few other people out there, Dr Quin makes these interests made clear at all relevant points, so that readers can form their own opinion on the reliability – and bias if it exists – of the information or views he expresses.
He does however make the point that the absence of any direct stake in a fertiliser or spreading company by self-proclaimed ‘independent experts’ in no way guarantees an open mind or lack of bias.
Unfortunately, the very opposite seems to be the case, as these people find it easier to hide behind decades-old research conducted by true scientists, unable to see that ‘scientific research’ is not something that only existed inside the trial techniques of the 1970s/80s, but is an ever- growing, vibrant, highly demanding mission for those who have the vision and courage to think outside the square.