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As I See It
Dirty tricks of competitors in fertilizer industry

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:20:00 03/13/2009

Filed Under: Fertilisers, Agriculture, Government Contracts

As promised, we are giving Soiltech Agricultural Products Corp. the right of reply, as we always do. [Read previous article] Soiltech has been accused by farmers of selling fertilizer that is below standards and specifications. A laboratory analysis by the Bureau of Soils seems to confirm this. We asked Soiltech and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap to comment on this. Soiltech sent its reply the other day. Yap?s reply will be in my next column.

Here?s Soiltech?s reply:

?Please allow us to debunk all the allegations made by a complainant in your column of March 9, 2009, in which our products were alleged to be ?way below specifications and way below what the product declared.?

?First of all, you have been grossly misinformed by the so-called complainant. You wrote that the alleged products were imported from China. We have not imported an N-P or N-P-K fertilizer from China for the past two years.

?However, the alleged complaint had unjustly identified our brand (SWIRE), a locally manufactured product and market leader, as the fertilizer brand or product. This is totally untrue.

?Soiltech Agricultural Products Corp. produces and distributes N-P and N-P-K under the SWIRE brand. For the past 10 years we have been the market leader in terms of market share and sales in Luzon. We take exception to allegations on SWIRE product quality, efficiency and integrity.

?We have checked some of the points raised in your column, specifically the so-called tests conducted by the Bureau of Soils which were requested allegedly by a farmer. The facts we gathered revealed that the so-called complaint was filed by a certain Carmencita Caluzan from Marikina City. Are there still farmlands in Marikina City to justify such a complaint? There being none, what then was the motive behind such a dubious and questionable complaint on our company and products?

?A summary of facts will show the following:

?We have not imported any N-P or N-P-K fertilizer products from China for the past two years.

?Clearances and permits for the past 10 years on all SWIRE products have been issued by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), thereby making our fertilizer products compliant with all regulations of the government.

?The FPA, not the Bureau of Soils, is the government agency that oversees and regulates the fertilizer industry in the country. Fertilizer use, efficacy and quality are clearly FPA functions, while soil quality and fertilizer recommendations are the concerns of the Bureau of Soils.

?The Bureau or Soils? so-called tests that were used in your column are nebulous and not at all specific in nature. It could have come from any person claiming to be a farmer whose motive is questionable. We also take issue with the procedure for sampling which clearly showed that it was not property observed and conducted. The so-called evidence or materials brought to the Bureau of Soils for testing were unmarked and unlabeled plastic bags which would show that it could have been adulterated because our fertilizer comes in 50-kg sacks that are properly sealed. In addition, such tests conducted in an unnamed location in Metro Manila (not a farming area at all), with no solid proof of use of our fertilizer brand, is questionable.

?The SWIRE brand of fertilizers as market leader in Luzon for years now is the best proof of product quality, efficacy and benefit. A non-performing fertilizer product would be totally rejected by farmers after a season of trial use. Our product history and market leadership through the years clearly prove the superiority of the SWIRE brand.

?We appreciate the concern you expressed in your column and are grateful of the fact that you were not quick to pass judgment on us. We hope that this clarification clearly explains that the allegations made by the complaint in your column are baseless.

?We appeal to your sense of justice, fairness and objectivity which are the evident strong points in your columns. We are confident that you will give us the opportunity to reply to the allegations made against our company and our products.

?Thank you very much,

?Marketing Manager (SWIRE)
?Soiltech Agricultural Products Corp.?

* * *

We inquired about the fertilizer industry from those in the know. We learned that there are about 10 companies selling fertilizer in the Philippines and that competition is very fierce, there being a fertilizer glut. Soiltech is the third biggest and dominates the Luzon market, especially Northern Luzon, where it has its factory (in San Fernando, La Union).

Soiltech?s fertilizer is priced lower than those of other brands which are imported. The importers were caught by the increase in petroleum products. Inorganic fertilizer is petroleum-based and when the price of oil skyrocketed, the price of fertilizer also skyrocketed. When the price of oil fell, the fertilizer importers were caught with high-priced imports and cannot compete with locally-produced fertilizer. They can lower their prices to compete but they refuse to take the loss.

That is why observers believe an importer may have thought of trying to sabotage the reputation of Soiltech?s SWIRE brand of fertilizer. Soiltech?s owners also told me that in the past, rocks were found mixed with fertilizer inside bags of SWIRE, obviously to sabotage the product.

Competition is good in a free market. It forces prices down. But dirty tricks are also a bane of competition. Competitors and government regulators should watch against this and punish those guilty of it.

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