Strategy key to deal with fertilizer market challenges

Farmers need to wait to apply fall anhydrous ammonia as it’s still too warm. Maximum 4-inch bare soil temperatures on Oct. 4 ranged from 68-74 degrees in northern Illinois, 71-78 degrees across the central portion of the state and 73-78 degrees in the south, the Illinois State Water Survey reported. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Farmers should stay in close contact with their fertilizer supplier this fall as they plan and execute applications for the 2022 crop season.

Supply chain issues continue to wreak havoc on the market and prices subsequently remain near historic highs.

Prices in the state on Sept. 23 averaged $788 per ton for anhydrous ammonia (up $32 from Sept. 9), $638 for urea (up $63), $385 for liquid nitrogen 28% spread (up $22), $742 for diammonium phosphate (up $26) and $657 for potash (up $17), according to the Illinois Production Cost Report from USDA and the Illinois Department of Ag Market News Service.

But the spike in prices doesn’t necessarily mean farmers should cut fertilizer rates. Dave Swigart, general manager of Conserv FS, believes there’s still strong incentive to maximize yields.

“Prices have certainly been escalating in the fertilizer market, which is creating some challenges,” Swigart told FarmWeek. “When you look at commodity prices, they’re still strong. I think staying with consistent (fertilizer) rates still makes sense when you look at the value of the crop.”

A number of farmers apparently agree with that strategy as dry fertilizer applications got off to a fast start, at least in the Conserv FS territory in northern Illinois.

“The crops are coming out of the field quickly, which allowed us to get a good start,” on dry fertilizer applications prior to a rainy pattern the first full week of October, Swigart said.

“Now, that will put pressure on the supply chain, and supply chain issues are out there, already,” he noted. “With some of the storage we have and planning we did, we feel we’re in a good position on the dry fertilizer side to cover our customers’ needs this fall.”

The planning includes the recent completion of an expansion project at the Conserv FS facility in Waterman, which increased storage of dry fertilizer to 7,500 tons and liquid fertilizer to 1.3 million gallons.

“It’s really going to increase our capacity to serve customers, not only in that immediate area but it changes the way we approach business throughout Conserv,” Swigart said. “With a lot of fertilizer coming off the Illinois River, this helps us push forward further into our territory.” Still too warm for anhydrous applications

With 41% of corn and 32% of soybeans in the bin statewide as of Oct. 4, many farmers hope to begin fall anhydrous ammonia applications in coming weeks. But unseasonably warm weather put the brakes on those operations into the second week of the month.

The Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and Illinois Agronomy Handbook recommend farmers wait for temperatures to dip to 50 degrees and trending lower before applying fall anhydrous. But maximum 4-inch bare soil temperatures on Oct. 4 ranged from 68-74 degrees in northern Illinois, 71-78 degrees across the central portion of the state and 73-78 degrees in the south, the Illinois State Water Survey reported.

“We feel good about our supply of anhydrous ammonia,” said Swigart, who welcomed recent rains to loosen the soil. “But, with the temperatures we’ve had, it needs to cool down.”

Farmers who apply anhydrous this fall should consider the use of an inhibitor to reduce the risk of nitrification between application and crop uptake in the spring.

Livestock farmers also should monitor weather conditions before applying manure.

“The push for application may be to empty storages,” said Jay Solomon, University of Illinois Extension environment and energy stewardship educator. “However, these warm air and soil temperatures can increase the potential for odor complaints. The nitrogen volatilized off as ammonia gas can be a major component of the odor produced during application. Keeping the nitrogen in other forms longer benefits both the crop and the environment.”

Long-term weather outlooks currently don’t show any signs of the potential for problematic weather for possible fertilizer applications later this month, according to Trent Ford, Illinois state climatologist.