Nitrogen fertilizers could be in short supply this spring

Nitrogen fertilizers could be in short supply this spring

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 2/14/01.

Due to high prices of natural gas, farmers could be facing a shortage of nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Higher nitrogen fertilizer prices will also be affecting farm budgets.

Nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas and comes in three forms: anhydrous, liquid fertilizer, and urea.

Due to the high gas prices, prices of anhydrous went up 35 percent and liquid nitrogen increased 40 percent. Anhydrous normally sells for 17 cents a pound. It is selling anywhere from 23 to 26 cents per pound. Urea normally sells for 22 cents per pound. It sells anywhere from 26 to 30 cents per pound. Liquid nitrogen's normally sells for 25 cents per pound plant food. The price has risen to 35 cents per pound plant food.

With natural gas in short supply and at high prices, the manufacture of nitrogen has been neglected.

John VanderBeek, Cenex agronomy plant manager, said obtaining anhydrous nitrogen won't be a problem. However, obtaining urea and liquid nitrogen could be a problem.

"We've been told most warehouses are empty of urea. The supply is on the Mississippi River on barges. We won't see more until the river opens up, which could be the end of March or later. There is a lot of ice out there," VanderBeek said.

VanderBeek said the weather will be a big factor in the supply of nitrogen fertilizer. Farmers in southern states will be the first to plant. If they encounter a wet spring, many will switch to urea and place more of a strain on the supply for Minnesota.

VanderBeek said they have enough nitrogen fertilizer on hand for their customers, but obtaining more could be a challenge.

Bob Byrnes, Lyon County extension educator, said farmers applied lower than normal amounts of fertilizer last fall. Rain in late October and the rapid onset of cold weather and frozen soil in November resulted in producers failing to get as much as half of their intended fall nitrogen applied, he added.

Iowa State University is suggesting farmers plant more soybeans than corn this year because of the high corn drying costs, the fuel expense for tillage the uncertain nitrogen supply, and the high prices of nitrogen fertilizer.

Fertilizer alternatives for farmers
In light of the low supplies of nitrogen, Bob Byrnes, Lyon County extension educator, cites alternatives for producers to evaluate:

•Consider the entire corn budget and reduce inputs that will have the least impact on corn yield. For example, fertilizer nitrogen gives more return than phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). On fields with medium to high P and K levels, consider cutting back on those nutrients.

•Be flexible with nitrogen forms. Most analysts agree that by spring, the nitrogen supply will be adequate. However, there may be shortages due to transportation problems or scarcity of a certain form. If there is a shortage, it is likely to be the liquid form. Producers need to be open to preplant anhydrous ammonia or urea application or sidedressing with anhydrous early in the growing season.

•Look for an opportunity to reduce expenses for seed, weed control, and other inputs. Higher nitrogen prices are expected to increase corn production costs five to six percent, according to Iowa State University. Reducing seed and herbicide expenses could hold down this increase.

•Consider livestock manure as a nitrogen source. Liquid hog manure from a pit can contain 35 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons. If the manure is incorporated or injected, about two-thirds of the nitrogen is available to the crop the first year. Test the manure before application so you know the exact nutrient content, and then adjust application rates accordingly.

•Consider switching some corn acres to soybeans. Byrnes said this is the last option to consider. Expect a 10 percent yield reduction potential for second-year soybeans. Soil and residue-borne disease problems are likely and any soybean cyst nematode population will explode.

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