Fertilizer – An Expense or an Investment

This month’s edition of ‘The Agriculturist’ features a thought-provoking piece by our Business Development Manager Hedda Rose Pitter, in which she discusses the topic ‘Fertilizer – An Expense or an Investment’. Let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to grab a copy of ‘The Agriculturalist’ at a farm store near you!

Almost ten years ago when I decided to go into farming/agriculture, I met a gentleman by the name of Webster McPherson. I vividly remember him teaching a group of eager potential Greenhouse farmers in the salubrious hills of Christiana, Manchester telling farmers “fertilizer is not an expense, it is an investment.”

Those persons who were already in traditional farming rolled their eyes or grunted disapprovingly at him. We could not comprehend or wanted to understand the ‘craziness’ he was uttering. Fast forward a few years later, and I joined Newport Fersan (Jamaica) Limited (NFJ) the premiere fertilizer company in Jamaica as their Sales Manager. As you can imagine the main role of marketing is trying to convince farmers to look at fertilizer as an investment and not an expense.

This provocative statement has lingered with me over the years especially when I hear farmers saying fertilizer is ‘expensive.’ I have finally decided to take the bull by the horns and step boldly out to give credence to the statement and shed some light as to why Webster was indeed right and not crazy. If you have a sum of money in the bank and continuously withdraw from it without making a lodgment, at some point the bank account will become empty. The soil is not any different; whatever you are planting requires a certain amount of nutrients to reap the benefit.

As farmers, we must first appreciate that after years of depleting our soils at some point we have to give back (make a lodgment) if we are to reap the benefits, rewards or gains of our labour. If we are to honestly believe “our wealth is in the soil,” then it is only reasonable that we invest to gain the interest (yields) necessary to make our efforts worthwhile.

So let us look at fertilizer, what is it and why is it important? The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “a chemical or natural substance added to soil or land to increase its fertility.” Its importance in plant growth is to increase fertility in order to increase your yields. But how is the farmer convinced that it is an investment and not an expense? First, he/she should know some fundamentals, what we call the four (4) ‘R’s of fertilizing – Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time and the Right Place.


For this example Farmer X is planting Irish Potato at a plant density of 17,000 seeds to the acre at an investment (cost) of $6,000 per 50kg bag with the desired minimum yield of 17,000 lbs:

  1.  Right source  – Potato Lizer Starta and Finisha (or exact nutrient requirement – Precise Nutrient Management System)
  2. Right rate – 2(50kg) bags of Potato Lizer Starta and 5 (50kg) bags of Potato Lizer Finisha
  3. Right time – 2 bags of Starta at planting and 5 bags of Finisha at moulding
  4. Right Place – 2 inches from the seeds at planting for the Starta and at moulding for the Finisha

The above meant that Farmer X has just invested $42,000 ($6,000 x 7 bags) per acre for 17,000 seeds. This calculates to $2.47 ($42,000/17,000 seeds) per seed. If the farmer sells his/her potatoes at a price of $50/lb he/she will earn $850,000 ($50 x 17,000lbs) while spending $42,000 on fertilizer. Was this an expense or an investment?

Let us use another example: Coffee at a density of 870 plants/acre at an investment (cost) of $3,300/50lb bag of fertilizer with the desired yield of 150 boxes per acre.

  1. Right source – Coffee Lizer (or exact nutrient requirement – Precise Nutrient Management System)
  2. Right Rate – 9 (50lb) bags per acre (8oz per plant (for the year)
  3. Right Time – pre-flowering and post flowering
  4. Right Place – buried along the leaf drip circle

The above meant that Farmer X has just invested $29,000 ($3,300 x 9 bags) per acre at 870 plants. This calculates to $33.33 ($29,000/870 plants) per plant. If the farmer sold his/her coffee at $4,000/box then he/she will earn $600,000 ($4,000 x 150 boxes) while spending $29,000 on fertilizer. Was this an investment or a cost?

Over the years I have not just learned, but come to appreciate the best way to convince farmers is through ‘show and tell.’ We can take any crop and apply the same principles above to show the returns on his/her investment when purchasing fertilizer. Of course, there are other variables (labour cost, pesticide cost, etc.) to be taken into consideration but the bottom line is that the farmer can now know the correct calculation of their fertilizer investment.

Let me thank Webster McPherson for his provocative statement which started this conversation. As NFJ’s Business Development Manager, I appreciate the support from our farmers when they purchase the FERSAN brand of fertilizer. There is an even greater appreciation and satisfaction that we get when our team of experts can guide our farmers to realize their best potential and reap the rewards of their labour.

Farmers, keep on investing and reaping the wealth that is in your soil. Remember fertilizer is an investment, not an expense!

Hedda Rose Pitter


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