Fertilizer prices on world markets dropped significantly last winter, but because of the buying cycle it has taken until this year for those lower prices to be reflected at local dealer levels. What's on the horizon for world (and local) prices this coming season?


Nitrogen

World urea prices declined significantly since 2008 and were back to 2006 levels this summer (Figure 1). Prices rebounded somewhat recently (end of December) and are showing some strengthening, but are still well below highs seen in 2008. New Orleans urea prices off ship reached a low of $240/ton last summer, but recently recovered to $320/ton. Western Nebraska dealer urea prices currently range from $400 to $470 per ton ($0.43/pound to $0.51/pound nitrogen).

The best nitrogen buy is ammonia. With the late corn harvest, there was little fall application through most of the Corn Belt and this has created high inventories. Ammonia fob the Corn Belt is now (end of December) running just more than $350/ton with dealers asking $400/ton. In the Panhandle, ammonia ranges from $435/ton to $480/ton or $0.26/pound to $0.29/pound nitrogen. Nitrogen solution (32-0-0) is also a bargain compared to urea. Western Nebraska prices range from $205/ton (($0.32/pound) to $290/ton ($0.45/pound) nitrogen.

World demand for fertilizer is still recovering. The Chinese had nitrogen export tariffs but are expected to lower these. The Russians have opened a new facility to load super tankers with ammonia which provides competition for world markets.

Phosphorus

Phosphate prices for 18-46-0 (DAP) more than quadrupled before falling back to 2006 levels last spring (Figure 2). Prices currently are running under $330/ton fob at Corn Belt locations. In western Nebraska, prices for 18-46-0 and 11-52-0 are comparable and range from $400/ton to $480/ton.

Potash

In the western hemisphere, potash prices are effectively controlled by the Canadians who have much of the world supply. They have the advantage over the Russians and Europeans because they have lower transportation costs to get it to the U.S. Potash prices took much longer to decline than nitrogen and phosphorus, but they finally fell last summer from $800 per metric ton to $400 (Figure 3). They have recently taken another small drop.

Recommendations

Fertilizer prices for the 2010 season should be a bargain compared to past years and growers will comparison shop. It may be a challenge to get soil test results this year because of the late corn harvest. Soil phosphorus and potassium levels do not change rapidly, so you can use historic field averages (if you have yearly samples) as a guideline.

Follow a good soil testing program and if soil phosphorus levels are low, this would be a good year to build them. The key to maintaining profitability is to know soil test levels and do an excellent job of fertilizer application to enhance efficiency.

Strip-till or zone-till placement of phosphorus at shallower depths (3 to 5 inches below the soil surface) should perform similarly to row application and provide similar efficiency. In more neutral soil pH ranges (6.8 to 7.3), it may be time to look at broadcasting and incorporating phosphorus. Take a look at the nitrogen sources you have been using to see if changes could benefit profitability. Ammonia should be an exceptional buy and nitrogen solution is priced even lower than urea.

Original article by Gary Hergert, Soils Specialist, Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff, Neb.

Fertilizer Bargains May be Available for 2010