Fertilizer Prices And What To Do

elevated sprayer
A high-clearance rig applies nitrogen fertilizer next to the plant using “Y drops.” Photo by Tyler Jones, University of Florida

The fire-starter for 2022 crop input discussions is fertilizer prices. Without getting into the why of current volatility, first recall this situation is not entirely unique. Potash at the farmgate was about 14 cents per pound for years, if not decades.

Then a confluence of factors in 2007-08 led to a dramatic shift: increased domestic demand due to higher grain prices; increased demand by India, China and Brazil; events in the crude oil and natural gas markets; and the decreased value of the dollar in international trade. Potash prices more than quadrupled. This was breaking new ground.

What To Do For P And K

This is a moment for patience as the storm swirls, so refrain from tearing garments and donning sackcloth. Large-scale components, some anticipated, others not, interacted over the past two months to develop the current situation, and a lot more interactions are anticipated over the winter months.

Many variables determine the ultimate success of a crop: variety selection, water management, insects, nematodes, diseases, weed pressure and climate to name a few. Soil fertility or nutrient management addresses five fundamental questions: Do you really need the fertilizer? If you do, how much do you really have to apply? What fertilizers are available? When is the best time to apply? How should it be applied?

An Inexpensive Step

Soil testing answers questions one and two. Most growers and consultants test fields on two- to three-year cycles. But in this situation, consider the relatively inexpensive step of annual soil testing to more closely monitor nutrient levels.

Test-based recommendations should indicate whether the soil can provide sufficient nutrition without fertilization. Mississippi State University uses five indices to report capacity: very low, low, medium, high and very high.

Very high P or K levels mean there is a small chance of plant response to fertilizer. Conversely, soils that test very low are more likely to respond if fertilized. Soils rated medium may or may not respond to fertilization, and P and K fertilizer recommendations in the MSU system in this category are “maintenance” levels.

The amount of nutrients a crop uses (total uptake) and how much is removed by harvest do not differentiate between soil-supplied nutrients versus fertilizer-supplied. Mississippi Delta soils are among the most fertile on the planet and not respecting the capacity to replenish plant available P and K can lead to inefficiency and unneeded expense if application rates are based solely on removal.

Answering questions three, four and five depends on how large-scale business factors sort out over the next six months. On the farm, which crops are planted in the spring of 2022 will influence nutrient management implementation.

More information on nutrient application recommendation philosophies and soil-test-based nutrient management were discussed in these Mississippi Crop Situation articles: “Fundamental Fertilizer Management,” “Soil Test Recommendation Systems” and “Managing Soil Calcium and Magnesium.”

Nitrogen fertilizer pricing is still closely tied to the price and availability of the natural gas used in production. Managing N fertilizers in row crops in warm and humid Mississippi is not based on analyzed soil tests. See: “The Challenges of Soil N Testing in Mississippi.” Nitrogen fertilization strategies are crop specific, and fertilizer efficiency depends on the product and how it is applied.

Article by Larry Oldham, Mississippi State University Extension soils specialist

Tips From Around The Southern Corn Belt

Crop Marketing Tools

With rising input prices, including seed and seed treatments, farmers should pay close attention to the way crops are marketed. The Louisiana State University AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness offers tools designed for farmers to analyze and monitor what goes into and out of farm accounts.

AgCenter economists follow commodity markets to help them develop interactive tools with the aim of keeping producers abreast of price fluctuations and input availability. A monthly crop market update and a quarterly newsletter inform stakeholders about important trends for commodities in Louisiana, including corn. The reports are available online at https://bit.ly/3n86miQ.

— Louisiana State University

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Manage Risk

Producers are encouraged to evaluate strategies and use marketing tools that fit their operations. Since input and output prices are up compared to last year, risk management strategies need to be formulated based on current market risks.
Remember: Doing nothing is a strategy, but it is rarely the optimal strategy. Bottom line — if you are purchasing inputs at high prices, you should consider securing a price (or price floor) on outputs while prices are high.

— University of Tennessee

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Minimize Losses

Corn can lose nitrogen in two ways: below the root zone and through the air. To prevent losses and improve efficiency, apply nitrogen close to the time of uptake. Focus on in-season applications, bypassing times when losses are most likely.

The best way to manage risk of nitrogen loss is to have a plan to side-dress nitrogen to the corn if there is evidence of significant loss. Research shows that side-dressing through corn tasseling usually maximizes yield. Later applications still increase yield.

The best way to check for nitrogen deficiency is to compare corn color to control areas with plenty of nitrogen. Options for application include high-clearance applicators, available at some fertilizer dealers, and aerial applications.

— University of Missouri

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