anhydrous tanks

Spring could be crunch time for some farmers in the Midwest.

With a wet fall in many areas, farmers were limited in how much post-harvest work they could complete before risking damage to their fields, or before the ground froze.

One of the biggest concerns this spring will be the supply of anhydrous ammonia because many farmers skipped applying in the fall, said Tom Bayliss, vice president of wholesale fertilizer at Eldon C. Stutsman Inc. in Hills, Iowa.

Those looking to apply fertilizer will be facing a possible bottleneck at dealers.

“That’s always going to be a concern anytime you have a constraint on the calendar,” Bayliss said. “I believe the calendar is going to force some farmers into making a decision,” such as looking at alternative sources for plant nutrients.

“From our standpoint here, we can see there will be long lines at the terminals,” Bayliss said.

The ag supplier has taken steps to improve application and delivery capabilities from the dealerships out to fields, “but we have not improved any of our storage, loading and distribution from the production plants in the last period of time, with a few exceptions,” he said.

According to USDA Market News Service reports, as of Feb. 27 cash distributor prices for anhydrous ammonia ranged from $592 to $630 per ton. That was up from $470 to $552 last March. For 32 percent liquid nitrogen, Market News reported late February prices at $269-335/ton, compared to $245-285/ton in March 2018.

Planning ahead and patience are going to be key.

Starting field work too soon could cause soil damage that could ultimately hurt the bottom line worse than if a farmer failed to get the fertilizer applied.

“What’s really going to be a challenge and really important going into spring is to try and hold back as best they can and wait for the soil to get into good condition so they don’t cause compaction problems,” said Kevin McCall, a state conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

“That could happen if they get out when it’s too wet. I understand there’s going to be big, big pressure to try and get stuff done in fairly short windows this spring.”

Iowa State Extension Field Agronomist Paul Kassel echoed the need to wait until the soil is ready, but also cautioned against waiting too long — planting too late in the season.

“A lot of farmers gotta commit, and it may not be an issue, but if spring gets late they might get pushed back on that because they have to wait for the custom applicator,” Kassel said. “I’m guessing most people will go the liquid route.”

Now it’s a waiting game. One of the biggest concerns for Bayliss is that with storage limitations, anhydrous manufacturers simply can’t make more until the current stock begins to be used.

“We won’t be making it fast enough,” he said. “If we give up a month’s worth of production because the tanks are full and we draw those tanks down as fast as we can draw them down, we will be out of product and there will not be product available for the later season application.”

He said normally they are starting to see anhydrous reach farms the first week of March, but with the current weather conditions, things will be pushed back.