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Recovering from the '08 'fertilizer tsunami': Now what?

Agriculture.com Staff 01/22/2009 @ 9:04am

But, it hasn't trickled to the retail level yet, and now a pipeline full of higher-priced fertilizer stands between farmers and lower fertilizer bills.

"A tsunami hit the world fertilizer market last year, and its effects are going to be felt in the U.S. market for a long time," says Rich Fee, Crops and Soils Editor for Successful Farming magazine.

This is just one of the issues that will be discussed during Farm Fertility Forum 2009, a series of upcoming webinars presented by Successful Farming magazine and SFP, the maker of NutriSphere-N fertilizer manager.

"Exceptionally strong worldwide demand for fertilizer last year coupled with a weak dollar and higher fertilizer production costs pushed U.S. fertilizer prices to record high levels in late summer," Fee points out. "Then in the fall, a weakening economy and reduced demand at the farm level led to a precipitous drop in nitrogen and phosphate prices. Consequently, some phosphate mines have shut down. Potash prices, however, have remained relatively high, despite reduced demand."

"Meanwhile, retailers who filled their tanks and warehouses with expensive fertilizer early last fall are balking at selling that fertilizer at a loss," says Fee. "And farmers, most of whom know that prices have dropped significantly at the wholesale level, are balking at paying the higher prices."

Fee will be joined by fertilizer specialists like Jim Camberato of Purdue University, who will discuss issues in the phosphorous and lime markets, in the three-week series of webinars. The first will take place at 7:00 pm CST on Tuesday, February 3, with others taking place at 7:00 pm on February 10 and 24. Go to www.agriculture.com/webinar to learn more about the webinars, including how to sign up and get involved.

In addition to talking about the fertilizer marketplace, webinar participants will touch on ways to streamline applications and make better use of existing supplies. One of these, Camberato says, is in more in-depth soil sampling, something he'll touch on during the webinar series.

"There's a lot more emphasis on the advantage of smart soil sampling, more detailed soil sampling, than there has been in the past," he says. "There's been more interest in sampling for variable-rate applications.

"It makes sense today. In the past, when farmers penciled it out when fertilizer was inexpensive, there wasn't a big impetus to do a lot of detailed sampling with variable rate. But, with prices doubling and tripling, it gives plenty of incentive to do it," Camberato adds.

And, even though you may be weeks or months away from putting down spring applications, now is a good time to think about your fertilizer plans for '09, Fee adds.

"Unlike most years, farmers will be making decisions about P and K rates and application techniques right up until planting," he says. "And many of them will be making nitrogen management decisions clear through the sidedressing season."

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