The SFP company might squeeze into the category of small business in the Kansas City area, but the company has grown into a well-known national player in the fertilizer industry because of its national and international marketing.

SFP founder Larry Sanders said he is exceptionally proud of SFP being selected 2011 Small Business of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. SFP, also commonly known as Specialty Fertilizer Products, is based in the suburb of Leawood, Kan.

Growing up on his family’s farm, Sanders was frustrated when costly fertilizer didn’t do as much as expected. As an adult he set out to change that.

Sanders’ company has done well in developing products that overcome conventional fertilizer inefficiencies that it now has clients across North America and internationally. On May 25, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce recognized its success by naming SFP the 2011 Small Business of the Year and also the recipient of the Mr. K Award.

Both awards were presented at the chamber’s 25th annual award celebration May 25. The Mr. K Award is named after the late Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of Marion Laboratories and former owner of the Kansas City Royals.

Criteria for the award judging included looking at the company’s growth, sustainability, community service and employee relations.

In accepting the award, Sanders said he could hardly believe the company won the top honor, and he praised the other nine businesses on a Top 10 list of companies for their growth and impact on the community.

Sanders grew up on a beef cattle and hay farm on the Texas-Louisiana border. After earning a doctorate in soil chemistry and plant nutrition, Sanders founded SFP in 1998. He then spent several years on research and development before launching his first two products: Avail and Nutrisphere-N.

There was no money for marketing so he gave away a lot of product to universities and farmers.

He asserted that farmers could use less fertilizer and still increase their crop yields by as much as 15 percent, and he said once farmers got the results themselves, sales increased dramatically.

In 2010, SFP’s revenues grew by nearly 22 percent, and the number of employees grew by 24 percent to about 40. International marketing is occurring in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Zambia, Australia and Peru.

Sanders said Kansas City is emerging from the Midwest as a technological hotbed and offers easy access to farmers, as well as being centrally located for customers across the country. He said he has a goal of helping to increase global food production while preserving the environment and plans to branch out into non-agricultural applications.