With complex decisions to make each year – from adjusting capital expenditures to figuring out the amount and timing of fertilizer applications – farmers must analyze reams of data to keep their operations running profitably. PotashCorp saw an opportunity to provide utility-based content that would not only inform farmers, but also influence mission-critical decision-making.
As the largest manufacturer of fertilizers by volume, PotashCorp was particularly hard hit by an industry-wide drop in fertilizer sales. In 2012, it experienced a sales decline of 18% in the United States driven by the cyclical nature of the commodity business. Agronomists at PotashCorp knew, however, that by saving money on potash (a naturally occurring salt mined from the earth), farmers were missing out on higher yields.
That calculus – figuring out how much additional fertilizer cost is worthwhile to increase yield and productivity – is a fairly complex problem requiring real-time data and analysis. In the absence of better information, farmers may opt not to apply potash for one or more growing seasons. Without it, crops still grow; but the soil loses its nutrients that are taken up by each harvest.
Working with its agency, gyro, PotashCorp developed a set of web-based calculators to help farmers make complex, data-driven decisions. Explains gyro managing partner, Brian Peters, “What we wanted to do was to put empirical evidence in the hands of farmers. We wanted to treat farmers like the savvy businesspeople they are by arming them with tools to make more informed business decisions.”
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PotashCorp hosts four web-based, interactive tools to support farmers’ real-time decision-making:
- Nutrient Removal Calculator asks farmers to enter current yield and fertilizer application to determine what degree current practices are depleting nutrients from the soil.
- Nutrient ROI Calculator pulls real-time data about local fertilizer pricing, combined with farmers’ inputs of nutrient balance and yield, to determine ROI on each ton of fertilizer applied.
- Growing Degree Days Calculator
- Rainfall Tracker
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The company also created a state-by-state nutrient balance analysis showing an alarming gap between the amount of nutrients being absorbed by crops and the amount being reapplied to the soil. This gap has led much of the nation’s farmland to hit critically low nutrient levels.
“What we’re doing is taking the methods soil scientists use and automating it in a web-based tool,” says Robert Mullen, chief agronomist for PotashCorp. “If you’re a farmer working 18 hours per day, it’s unlikely you have time to read technical white papers and apply those insights to your own operations. With the calculators, we are taking scientifically sound information and methods, and making it very easy to use. Even more important, the information from the online calculators is actionable for farmers.”
And because the tools are web-based, they are quicker to produce and update than an app. Adds Peters, “We’re not asking farmers to download an app onto a mobile device, which speeds adoption.”
Over 120,000 farmers visit the site each year and that number continues to climb. While no marketing activity can change the volatile nature of a commodity-based business, the program allows farmers to remove emotion from the buying process, which PotashCorp hopes will lead to more consistent application over time.
Amplifying the message
To ensure that the right people find out about the online tools, PotashCorp uses social media to share educational content and take part in online conversations. Facebook ads help to amplify reach by targeting growers and agricultural retailers. And the team distributes content to agricultural websites and news venues to spawn additional earned exposure.
PotashCorp (gyro) was among the winners in the 2015 Content Marketing Awards, winning for Best Mobile App/Utility. There’s still time to enter your great work in the 2016 Content Marketing Awards competition. Entries must be submitted by April 29.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Chief Content Officer