Fertilizer file photo

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – As farmers figure their 2020 budgets, one line item that might help is lower fertilizer prices. To take advantage of those lower fertilizer costs, farmers may want to work with retailers to order products early.

If the Mississippi River remains high, fields remain wet and farmers wait to order fertilizer, it may be difficult to get fertilizer applied in a timely fashion – even if prices are lower.

Urea, phosphate and potash are all low-priced compared to their output values, said Curt Abfalter, AgSurion Risk Consulting, Bismarck, N.D.

Abfalter spoke at Small Grains Update meetings held Jan. 7-10 across northwest Minnesota.

“Fertilizer is cheap in this country compared to what the potential upward value is,” he said. “You combine that with what we can expect right now for logistical issues – based on a full river system and having that product come from a long ways away.”

When it comes to fertilizer, the U.S. imports urea, phosphates and potash, he said. The U.S. farmer relies on the rest of the world for these products and on infrastructure to get fertilizer ultimately on the field.

“What I’m saying is your values are relatively cheap right now, and we’re looking at potential logistical issues on getting that product into place by this spring,” he said.

The postponement of fertilizer application in the fall of 2019 suggests big delivery problems for spring 2020, said Bill Bond, Minnesota Crop Production Retailers (MCPR).

In the spring of 2019, it was impossible to bring fertilizer up the flooded Mississippi River. Semi-trucks brought product to the northern Corn Belt and Wheat Belt. Because of the expense of trucking, fertilizer prices increased and supplies were slow to arrive.

“We are at the end of the fertilizer supply chain in the Upper Midwest, so it has implications on supply,” said Bond, who serves as executive director of MCPR as well as Minnesota Certified Crop Advisors.

Getting fertilizer needs locked-in at the ag retailer can help farmers as they prepare for 2020, he said.

“It works in the favor of the grower, and also the suppliers/the retailers, to the extent that we have a known supply to be delivered to a farm location,” he said. “The challenge is when the orders come in late. That does create more logistical problems.”

He added that farmers will want to be aware that some fertilizer suppliers are getting out of the anhydrous ammonia business. The margins are so small that some retailers have no reason to carry it.

Add to that slim margin is the regulatory environment that has become more intense for anhydrous ammonia and requires more safety infrastructure.

“Overall, most people would agree that anhydrous is one of the more environmentally-sensitive sources of N fertilizer,” Bond said. “That is another pressure that is going on as we look to urea and other sources of fertilizer.”

Dicamba training needed this winter

In Minnesota, the cutoff date for applying dicamba herbicide is June 20. Farmers who will be applying dicamba need to complete dicamba training again this year, Bond said.

“The message for growers that are applicators is you can’t use training from last year, you have to get new training, and our website is actually the source that Minnesota Department of Agriculture cites for dicamba training that’s mandated on the label here in Minnesota,” he said.

More information is available at mcpr-cca.org/dicamba-information-trainings.