Farmers have a lot to consider for 2020 crop year decisions following this year’s weather-related challenges that led to a record 19.4 million prevented plant acres.

Fortunately, fertilizer logistics shouldn’t be an issue next season for those who farm near the Illinois River, which will be closed to navigation next summer for lock and dam repairs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans major repairs on six locks on the Illinois River, with most of the work scheduled between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2020. The river will be closed to barge traffic through the locks during that time.

“For most of the 2020 crop, that fertilizer will already be on (prior to the river closure). I don’t think we’ll see any effect on that crop,” said Graham Utter, senior manager of sales, area crop nutrient operations for GROWMARK. “Where we could see an effect is on fall fertilizer a year from now (for the 2021 crop).”

A Farm Futures survey suggests farmers could plant 4.5% more corn next year (94.1 million acres), which could require more fertilizer applications. But seed buying decisions could be months away for many farmers as they focus on harvesting the late-maturing 2019 crop.

“We don’t think a farmer really needs to do anything different (in terms of lining up fertilizer for next year),” Utter said. “We’re working on the supply side.”

GROWMARK plans to have fertilizer terminals full following next spring’s application season, prior to the river closure.

Backup plans are also in place, including increased use of rail to move fertilizer and the use of barges for additional storage capacity at river terminals.

“I think everybody feels comfortable where we’re at (in the planning stage for next year’s river closure),” Utter said. “Terminals will be full, we have backup plans in place and we have the ability to move barges between terminals. We can have barges sitting there full to give us extra supply.”

Fertilizer-related issues that could pop up in the months ahead likely could result from severe difficulties planting the 2019 crops.

The high number of prevented plant fields, late start to harvest and inability to apply phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) as planned last fall or this past spring raise a number of questions about applications of P, K and lime the next several months, Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois agronomist noted.

In general, if P and K fertilizers were applied last fall or spring but no crop was planted, that P and K should still be available for the 2020 crop. The same applies to lime applied the past 12 months, Nafziger noted.

However, any nitrogen previously applied with MAP or DAP is likely unavailable now and shouldn’t be counted in the 2020 supply, according to the agronomist.