Anhydrous tanks

Anhydrous tanks sit next to a waterlogged field near Nichols, Iowa.

When the rains stopped and a window came to get field work done, many farmers were forced to wait just a little longer.

After last fall’s wet harvest season across much of Iowa, farmers were scrambling this spring to get anhydrous ammonia from the local co-op, leaving some more than a little frustrated.

“It has never been this bad,” said Bremer County, Iowa, farmer Mark Mueller. “From a Saturday morning to the following Friday morning, I was able to get one tank of anhydrous. I couldn’t put on anhydrous the entire time anyway, but I’ve never had six days where I only got one tank. If we had a string of dry days in a row, I would have been completely out of nitrogen.”

The scramble this season wasn’t only felt in the fields, but also at the local distributors.

While Bob Follis, the sales agronomist at Heartland Co-op in Blairstown, Iowa, said he felt they managed the season well, he knows it wasn’t the case at every location around Iowa.

The co-op made sure to have extra hands on staff. Having two extra trained haulers helped during the busy preparation period.

“We did pretty well from the stories I heard around us,” Follis said. “We put two guys on 12-hour shifts and they hauled ammonia. I think we only ran out maybe twice, only for a few hours.”

They transported tanks from Heartland’s more northern locations like Reinbeck, Iowa, to help supplement their supply farther south.

“We have a few people who didn’t get it on that may still try,” Follis said. “I don’t know when they will make the switch to liquid, but we had a big enough window where most of our customers got it on.”

With the rush to get fieldwork done this spring, Follis said farmers were telling him the ground “just never seemed fit,” and that they might find out this summer if any mistakes were made by not waiting a little longer.

Some farmers opted to avoid early spraying and switched to all liquid, Follis said, choosing to take the extra cost (around $10-11 per acre) to avoid working in fields that weren’t ready.

However, Mueller said his frustration with the availability of anhydrous is the reason he has given consideration to changes, despite calling it the most stable and cost-effective form of nitrogen available.

“I have given serious thought, first, to booking from two different suppliers just to have a better shot of getting it, and second, switching away from anhydrous,” Mueller said.

While this was a unique year, Mueller said the demand issue is something that has been getting worse over time.

“I have seen gradual increases in the delays and the lack of anhydrous at certain times,” Mueller said.

“Twenty-five years ago when I started farming, I never had a delay. Then maybe 10 years ago, I might not be able to get any in an afternoon, but I was able to go do something else. Then five years ago, there might be nothing for a day, but two trucks would come in tomorrow. It’s been getting gradually worse.”

Follis said that while demand has been strong this year, this has been a “strange” year overall, and he doesn’t believe there is too much of an issue.

“It’s been an exceptional year,” Follis said. “It’s been a very strange year. It’s been herky-jerky where we go for a couple of days, then sit for a week and repeat that process.”