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The drought that goes on giving

12/19/2012 @ 1:44pm

You know that story about a drought having a long tail? Well, this is a part of that story. The drought of 2012 just won't let go.

Now it's the low water levels on our river highways that is still biting farmers. According to a couple of Missouri fertilizer dealers, if you farm in the Midwest, you might not get all the fertilizer you would like this spring. And what you do get will cost more, at least for the transportation from the Gulf.

Allen Hayes of Bartlett Grain Company in Waverly, Missouri (fertilizer and chemical retailer), says the River shutdown or threat of shutdown from low water levels is already serious when it comes to fertilizer shipments. All forms of nitrogen and phosphorus come up the Mississippi to docks in Cairo or St. Louis or Burlington, then travel by truck or train to the Bartlett warehouse in central Missouri. Now, it faces the prospect of coming by truck and/or train all the way from New Orleans. "There are only so many trucks to do it," says Hayes. "It will add at least 50% to the transportation portion of the cost of fertilizer." It's still too "iffy" for him to know the overall price impact.

Normally, Bartlett would be filling fertilizer warehouses from now until spring, but it's on hold waiting to see how the transportation issue will play out. The Mississippi flow levels are less than half of normal from the drought, and too shallow for full barges. "We'll get the product. The question is, at what price?" says Hayes. He says Midwest farmers need to be talking to their fertilizer dealers right now to find out about their local supplies. The sooner you know the status, the better, he adds.

Thomas Mallory from Mallory Ag near Kansas City echoes Hayes. "I've heard from my liquid fertilizer supplier already -- he can't get it by barge," says Mallory. "It will have to come by truck, and I don't know what the price will be to my farmer customers. It'll cost more, but I don't know how much. I think I'm fortunate that my supplier bought early and locked it in, so it's just about the transportation now."

Hayes is facing another issue that bothers him as much: Some common chemicals, like glyphosate and Liberty, are in short supply and can't be ordered or priced right now. "How do I price them to my farmer customers when I can't even place the order?" he asks.

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