The employees of Ranco Fertiservice, Inc. have been experts in fertilizer blending for 48 years. The idea for the company grew from a concept of Ray. A. Nation, who was a manager at a cooperative in the late 1950s. The name "Ranco" was created using the initials from Ray A. Nation's name.

Nation knew from his own experience that for farmers to be successful and profitable, they had to have an efficient way to apply fertilizer as a blend or combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. But during the 1950s, fertilizer was spread mainly as straight materials, calling for multiple trips across the field to apply the fertilizer separately.

"Nation's first concept was to build a machine that could take three raw materials and blend them together in the proper ratio so that that they could be spread with only one pass for all three products," said Bob Reno, sales manager for Ranco. "Nation founded Ranco Fertiservice, Inc. in 1961, and with Glen Gillet, they improved concepts to create the first blender that combined the materials and spread them. Essentially he created the first soilection-type machine."

After the first full fertilizer season, the two decided to remove the blender from the truck and mount it in a permanent location. They discovered that they could not tender the unit in the field fast enough and it required too many hired hands. Also, the extended tube augers or booms proved to be unreliable, requiring too much maintenance. The result was establishing the first fertilizer warehouse multi-blender, which was the first volumetric blender on the market.

"Nation realized that they could cover more acres by offering blended fertilizer from one location rather than from the field," Reno said. "The Multi-blender combined the three materials together by individual metering augers from three separate product bins into a single blend auger. This created a continuous blending operation that was fast and efficient. The basic concept is still being practiced in the high-volume applications today. However, the Ranco Multi-blender has gone through many changes and improvements to meet today's demanding standards."

Today, the Sioux Rapids, Iowa, company employs 72 employees at its 85,000-square-foot manufacturing complex. Ranco now also offers any piece of warehouse equipment needed to handle and move product from one point to another, including belt conveyors, bucket elevators, all types of augers, product screeners and conditioners, truck and rail unloaders, many specialty items and its newest blend system-the "declining weigh" unit.

The biggest challenge the fertilizing blending industry faces today is the need to blend more rapidly and accurately, Reno said. "We have to keep up with these two facets in order to compete in today's industry. Improving the efficiency of the blenders is more important than ever. Finding ways to improve on the innovations of the past continually challenges us.

"As the costs of fertilizer rise and the costs of doing business increase, the need to handle fertilizer in higher and higher volumes at quicker speeds increases as well. We've gone from providing equipment that can handle 60 tons per hour to 800 tons per hour."

Reno explained that increasing pressure from railroads to offload railcars of fertilizer is also pushing the envelope of handling fertilizer materials. The more they require faster offload times, the more Ranco will be required to have the equipment to fit the bill.

"We have to find ways to build stronger, bigger and faster equipment to meet the growing needs of the fertilizer industry," he said.