What to do with High Fertilizer Prices?

Clint Thompson Alabama, Florida, Georgia

By Clint Thompson

Fertilizer prices are high and are unfortunately expected to stay that way for the foreseeable future says Glen Harris, University of Georgia Professor and Extension Agronomist in Environmental Soil and Fertilizer.

“They’re probably going to hold pretty high all the way through next spring the way I understand it,” Harris said. “I knew phosphorous was up for sure, but I think all of them are up. The way I understand it, they’re all going to be up.”

Jeffrey Dorfman, University of Georgia Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics, said during a recent Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association webinar, that a key part of the increased costs is due to China.

“China announced they’re going to block all exports of phosphate, and there are rumors they may block exports of urea as well. That’s going to raise fertilizer prices,” Dorfman said.

Comparable to 2008?

Harris said one of the benchmarks for high fertilizer prices is 2008. Current prices are approaching those levels.

“That’s when things really peaked. N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium) all were up around 85 cents per pound. Everybody then said, ‘Are we going to go to $1?’ Then in 2009 we did not. We slipped back down. And before 2005, fertilizer prices were low and steady for a long time. But if you look at the base numbers during that period, potassium was 12 cents per pound of K20. When it goes to 85, it was a 7-X increase. Everybody was saying fertilizer prices doubled, but it really depended on which element you looked at,” Harris said.

The more concerning question now is how do growers combat these rising prices? Or how can they cut costs and still maintain high yields?

“The question people have for me, ‘How am I going to fertilize with these high prices?’ There’s not a lot you can “skimp” on if you’re doing a good job. But I’ve got to be honest with you, between N, P and K, if you’re going to skimp a little on one it’s probably going to be phosphorous,” Harris said. “Overall our ‘P’ levels in soil are pretty good. It is immobile in the soil, so it builds up over time. Plus, we use a lot of chicken litter in Georgia, so we’ve got a lot of phosphorous in that. I never like to send a message that you can cut back on fertilizer beyond where you need it, but I’d take a long look at phosphorous if I’m going to “skimp” on anything.”