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Will you get more bang for your fertilizer buck this spring?

Agriculture.com Staff 02/04/2009 @ 2:24pm

Will you be able to save big bucks on your fertilizer purchases this spring? The dreaded answer, specialists say, may be "It depends."

That's because while retail fertilizer prices are expected to decline going into this spring, there remain a lot of variables that will ultimately decide just how much bang you get for your fertilizer buck. Variability and volatility will remain the only real constants in the marketplace even after the '09 row crops are in the ground.

That means decisions like when to finally pull the trigger and buy fertilizer you may not have secured yet for this year's crop will be tough. The longer you wait to buy, the lower prices will likely be. But, one industry analyst says if you wait too long, you may be left high and dry. It's definitely a balancing act this year.

"If you haven't already bought it, the closer you get to this spring, the more you'll see prices continue to go down a little further in the Midwest, especially for phosphate and potash," says David Asbridge, senior economist with Doane Advisory Services. "The bottom line is that you should put all of your purchases off as long as you can, but only if it doesn't turn into a game of chicken. Producers may cut back production if a lot of product doesn't get moved."

This supply dynamic could trickle down quickly and eventually add up with other factors to compound the situation further, Asbridge adds. In the end, it could change how many farmers apply spring nutrients.

"Then, we're going to run into a tight situation with transportation and distribution and you may not be able to buy what you need when you need it," he says. "You may not be able to buy what you need when you need it. It will depend some on the weather, too. This may be a year when we end up with more sidedressing. It will just depend on when you can get it on."

Will you be able to save big bucks on your fertilizer purchases this spring? The dreaded answer, specialists say, may be "It depends."

Even though prices are sliding for most all types of fertilizer, that doesn't mean they won't jump again in the next year or so, experts agree. If that's the case, take a deep breath before you abandon most or all of your fertilizer plans. Prices may trend upward again, but that doesn't mean your money's better off spent somewhere else. Prices have to swing fairly dramatically for fertilizer applications to become an unjustifiable expense, says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension soil fertility specialist John Sawyer.

Basing your fertilizer applications on your state's recommendations are only part of the equation. You've first got to have a clear picture of what your nutrient needs are, and soil sampling is the best way to do that. The average sample size is one every 2 1/2 acres, according to Purdue University agronomist and soil fertility specialist Jim Camberato. But, a more frequent sampling method can't hurt, he says.

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