By Suzannah Schneider, Communications Manager and Certification Coordinator
The Fertrell Company is one of the oldest organic fertilizer manufacturers in the United States, and a proud Certified Naturally Grown Business Ally!
The company has come a long way since it began in John Johnson's Maryland garage. We spoke with Casey Trinkaus, Marketing Manager, to learn more about Fertrell's rich past and commitment to sustainable agriculture and forward-thinking business structure.
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG): How did The Fertrell Company get started?
Casey Trinkaus (CT): In 1946, John Johnson found that his roses' endurance and fragrance were not meeting his expectations. He determined that by mixing plant, animal, and mineral compounds, his roses attained maximum performance. As a result, he formed The Organic Development Company in his garage in Fullerton, Maryland. The Organic Development Company relocated to the present site at Bainbridge, PA in 1961. In 1973, following the death of John Johnson, the company name became The Natural Development Company.
The name changed again in 1975 to The Fertrell Company. The name Fertrell is derived from the words: Fertilizer — FER; Trace Minerals — TR; and Elements — EL. The growth in organic production over the past 70 years have helped the company continue to grow.
Liquid fertilizers were added to the company’s offerings in 1961, and the Nutribalancer animal nutrition line was added in 1974. In 1996, three Fertrell Employees - Dennis Nygaard, Reuben Gantz, and David Mattocks – came together and purchased enough stock to gain ownership of the company. Dennis Nygaard retired in 1996, and Reuben Gantz retired in 2000. David Mattocks continues as the chairman of board of Fertrell.
Dave will never fully retire, but he stopped coming to the office in 2012 at age 76. He continues to help in the training of new and old staff members by teaching the history and philosophy of the company. In 2003, Fertrell adopted an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) to continue Fertrell for future generations of farmers and employees without needing to be sold to an outside entity. In 2017, construction began on a new warehouse and office building at the Bainbridge location. The project was completed in 2018, and has allowed Fertrell to expand both production and employment.
CT: Our core values are quality, integrity, customer service, compassion, and uniqueness.
CNG: How did you make the decision to support CNG as a Business Ally?
CT: We work with a wide array of farmers – from conventional, to transitioning, to organic - and everywhere in between. We feel it’s very important to support one another in agriculture, so supporting the mission of CNG and being a resource to farmers following their production philosophy is something we truly believe in.
CNG: How does Certified Naturally Grown support The Fertrell Company's customers?
CT: CNG offers Fertrell customers the opportunity to distinguish their products and production methods in the market without the high costs of organic certification. With the tough state of agriculture today, anything a farmer can do to help clarify to customers exactly why their product is different from the rest is advantageous. While all of the products we manufacture aim to be National Organic Program (NOP) compliant, we value the ability for our customers to meet a lot of those standards (and more) without the costs associated with certification.
CNG: What are some exciting developments at The Fertrell Company our CNG community can look forward to in 2019 and beyond?
CT: Both our Fertilizer team and our Animal Nutrition team have been hard at work creating new products for 2019. Our Livestock team just released a No Soy Protein Blend series for backyard poultry enthusiasts which will allow folks with smaller flocks to economically access to a complete soy free feed: all they’ll do is add corn or wheat, and they’re set! We also just (literally just) released our brand new Dry Cow Mineral for those herdsmen with dairy cows on the farm. This mineral blend is specific to the needs of dry cows which is rare in today’s market, though very necessary in order to maintain good health in both the milking herd and the new calves.
On the fertilizer side of things, we have been working on a few new standard blends (both dry and liquid) to better meet the needs of our customers. Right now we’re running field tests to make sure everything flows through equipment okay, and once that is done we’ll be making a more formal announcement about those products.
CNG: It's a tough question, but what is your favorite item in The Fertrell Company store?
CT: Ha! That is nearly impossible, though I will give two, just to make it fair. On the fertilizer side of things, we offer Custom Blending at no additional charge. That is something unique to Fertrell and something we really pride ourselves on. In essence, a farmer sends us their soil sample and tells us a bit about what they’re growing and our Agronomy team comes up with a Custom Blend Fertilizer that is specific to their farm and its needs. This allows us to economically address their soils specifically without wasting time or money with things that their fields aren’t lacking. It’s a great benefit to Fertrell customers and definitely one of our favorite products to talk about.
On our Livestock side, the Poultry Nutribalancer is our flagship mineral product, so it can be the favorite. Poultry Nutribalancer is an organically-approved complete vitamin and mineral supplement for all poultry that gets mixed into feed. It contains beneficial probiotics and trace minerals as well to help improve performance. In 1996, Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms started using our Poultry Nutribalancer for his flocks and was so pleased with the results, he never looked back.
CNG: If you had a magic agricultural wand, how would you use it to improve farm systems in America?
CT: One of my favorite quotes comes from Robyn O’Brien – “We pay the doctor to make us better when we should really be paying the farmer to keep us healthy”.
There are a lot of discrepancies in the amount farmers are paid for their hard work and efforts to be in sustainable agriculture. There’s also a separation of knowledge between the consumer going to a retail store and buying something off the shelf and really understanding what that decision is doing to their long-term health. Here at Fertrell, we do more than just manufacture products.
Every year, our staff gives about 100 presentations across the US to groups of farmers trying to learn how to do things “better”. Better can mean a lot of things – better for the environment, better for their own economics, better for the consumer because the product will be more nutritious, you name it. If we could wave a magic wand, we would want to educate the masses on why paying more for foods that are produced using more sustainable techniques should be considered critical to the health and wellbeing of our population.
CNG: Is there anything else CNG growers should know?
CT: Fertrell is always here to help. We end every single presentation, phone call, and email with that simple statement. Whether you use our products or not, if you have a question on how to do something farming-related, just ask us. We have over 70 years of knowledge here and we are happy to help. We’re all in this together and we only get one Earth. So if we can help you accomplish a goal on your farm, all you have to do is ask!