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Fertilizer prices on the rise

Jeff Caldwell 12/21/2010 @ 3:00pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If you didn't get around to nailing down your fertilizer needs for the 2011 crop, or if you've changed your mind on your plantings for next year, get ready for a little sticker shock.

Between static global inventories for some fertilizer types, increased demand for more acres worldwide and higher crop and input prices across the board, fertilizer prices are headed one direction right now, according to University of Nebraska Extension soils specialist Gary Hergert.

Nitrogen as urea ranges between $400 and $520 per ton, according to Hergert, with some projections pointing to that market moving as high as $580/ton by spring. That's "approaching prices paid a couple of years ago," Hergert adds.

Ammonia prices, which are topping out around $750/ton right now, will likely move to as high as $780/ton by spring. "World demand for fertilizer has recovered from the recession," Hergert says. "Shut-downs of ammonia plants in Trinidad, Venezuela and Russia recently tightened ammonia supply and kept prices increasing."

Dry phosphorous, right now ranging from $640 to $710/ton, could top out at $760/ton in the spring, while liquid phosphorous (10-34-0) could pass the $650-per-ton mark in a few months. The highest potash prices in the Corn Belt right now are around $600/ton, but could be as high as $730/ton by spring, Hergert says.



But, if you haven't gotten all your fertilizer secured for next year, don't worry too much, Hergert advises. "If you are a shrewd marketer, you have taken advantage of crop pricing opportunities that will help offset the higher production costs," he says. "You may still be able to find a few holiday bargains for pre-paid fertilizer, however, most of the good deals ended in November."

He advises 10 tips to help achieve a profitable fertilizer program for 2011:

  1. Follow a good soil testing program to know macro and micronutrient levels.
  2. Use the most efficient methods to apply phosphorus (starter or strip-till application) and timing options/methods/sources for nitrogen.
  3. Take deep soil samples for residual nitrate to fine-tune N rates.
  4. Set realistic yield goals. Expected yield is the major factor in determining the nitrogen rate for corn. Use a proven five-year average corn yield plus 5% (to account for hybrid and management improvements).
  5. Credit N from previous crop residue or legume crops. Soil tests will not show legume or crop residue credits as the residue or nodules must break down during the growing season. Credit N for corn after soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, and dry beans.
  6. Value and use manure sources properly. Manure is an excellent nutrient source for nitrogen, phosphorus, and micronutrients.
  7. Not all fertilizer recommendations are the same. UNL fertilizer recommendations may seem conservative compared to some commercial labs. UNL suggestions are based on research and on-farm verification. They are generally the most economical rates, even for high yield situations.
  8. Consider replicated strip trials to determine the effect of lower or higher rates on yield. Fine-tuning fertilizer use needs to be an on-going process.
  9. Comparison shop. Look at different products and do your “fertilizer arithmetic” to compare the actual cost per pound of nutrients.
  10. Work with a reputable dealer who can provide quality product, price assurances, timely delivery, and well-maintained equipment. Remember, service after the sale is also important.

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