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More farmers putting off fertilizer applications

Chances are good that you likely won't see as many fertilizer rigs running in the field this fall.

The majority of farmers responding to a recent Agriculture Online poll indicate they're cutting back fall fertilizer applications by 50% or more. In all, 33% say they'll cut that deep, while 16% responding say they'll trim between 26% and 50% of their fall fertilizer, and 12% say they'll cut it back by 11% to 26%. Still, 16% of responding farmers say they won't cut their fall applications.

Expense the main driver for the cutbacks. Some may even be willing to give up bushels when next year's harvest rolls around to save on fertilizer now. "Cut our expenses on the front end and harvest the higher bids on the back end," writes farmer and Agriculture Online Crop Talk member kraft-t.

"Nonetheless, fertilizer prices may well decline into spring as competition drives the prices lower," he adds. "Those with a large prepaid inventory could find themselves in a world of hurt. They (retailers) will resist lowering prices while they hold the high-priced inventory, but in the end, they may have to."

But, don't depend on a readily available supply come spring, warns one ag economist. Putting off most or all fertilizer applications until spring does carry risk, but it's widely accepted by most farmers. But, the fertilizer market dynamics may create a tighter supply scenario in the spring.

"Going forward, producers will face the added risk of product or supply availability. With retailers unable to afford financing large inventories of un-priced fertilizer there is no assurance that enough product will be available when demand is high," says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension ag economist Roger Ginder. "If producers do not place an order and price the product well in advance, it may not be available when they need it."

Some farmers are using alternate means to meet fertility needs, namely through manure applications. This is one way to get around the skyrocketing costs, says Crop Talk member James Brubaker.

"We use all manure for our corn fertility, except about 25 units of N at planting. For our soybeans, we count on the residual from corn. This practice has worked well for us for at least 10 years," he says. "We use liquid hog manure and some poultry litter if needed. We apply hog manure in the fall after the beans have been harvested and a rye cover crop has been planted. We seem to be losing very little N with this system."

Even if you're not applying fertilizer this fall but intend on going the commercial route, Ginder recommends at least keeping in closer touch with your retailer throughout the coming months, in the event that supplies are tight come spring.

"For the near term, producers need to be aware that filling their fertilizer needs the coming year may be different than the past. There is less opportunity for producer price shopping when manufacturers require prepayment from the dealer and offer smaller quantities of product to dealers more frequently," Ginder says. "Maintaining an ongoing relationship and more frequent communication with the dealer about supply becomes as important as searching the market for the lowest price."


Chances are good that you likely won't see as many fertilizer rigs running in the field this fall.

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