For months, headlines have focused on skyrocketing fertilizer prices for the 2022 growing seasons. XtremeAg farmers reported that prices have more than doubled since the 2021 growing seasons. Farmers make plans after market analysts and grower group members assess the situation. Five farmers from across the country discuss their strategies for fertility in the coming season.
Kevin Matthews, East Bend, North Carolina
What’s happening in North Carolina?
Kevin Matthews and his family grow corn, soybeans and winter wheat on more than 5,000 acres in East Bend North Carolina. He feels “very blessed” that the price of ortho phosphate liquid fertilizer has only increased 12% to 15% over the last year. That’s his farm’s primary source of phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients.
However, Matthews’ main nitrogen source is a 24% nitrogen, 3% sulfur liquid product he normally picks up directly at the Wilmington, North Carolina, port. He thought $170 to $238 a ton was high last summer. As of December 2021, the prices have soared to $550 to $600 per ton, and that’s if the supplier even has the product available.
What is Kevin Matthews’ plan for 2022?
Poultry and eggs are North Carolina’s top agriculture commodity, so litter is a great local option for increasing fertility and organic matter in the soil. Matthews Farm already uses as much poultry litter possible. “You get a lot more benefit from it vs. commercial fertilizers, although we are dependent on the commercial products to produce a sustainable food source for consumers,” Matthews says.
Matthews used variable-rate fertilizer applications long before prices rose. They will continue to do so into 2022.
Crop rotation on Matthews’ farm is determined by geography of the land, so switching corn acres to soybeans is not an option for managing 2022 input prices. The farm’s bottom ground is corn on corn because “the ear height has a larger chance of staying above the water in flood event. Soybeans would be a total crop loss!” explains Matthews.
Chad Henderson, Madison, Alabama
What’s the state of Alabama?
Chad Henderson is a farmer who raises wheat, soybeans and corn on more than 10,000 acres in Madison, Alabama. Like many of his peers, Henderson has seen fertilizer prices “nearly double” in the last few months, across the board.
What is Chad Henderson’s plan for 2022?
Technology and trial results will be Henderson’s biggest tools for overcoming challenges brought on by the higher fertilizer prices in the coming year. “We are strip-tilling a lot of acres for better fertilizer placement and efficiency,” explains Henderson. 2022 will be an opportunity to apply lessons learned from on-farm and XtremeAg trials to be more effective and efficient with their 2×2×2 applications, he adds.
Henderson, just like Matthews is using as much chicken litter and organic matter as he can to improve his soils.
Variable-rate fertilizer has been a part of Henderson’s management strategy for several years, so there’s no room for additional savings there.
Henderson doesn’t think a change to his crop rotation is a good way to cope with fertilizer prices, either. “We feel we are in it for the long haul and that’s just kicking the can down the road. Our rotation is what we feel has helped to produce the yields we attain,” he says.
Matt Miles, McGehee, Arkansas
What’s happening in Arkansas?
Matt Miles farms more Arkansas than 11,200 acres and raises six crops, including nitrogen-hungry cotton, cotton, and rice. Miles has been imagining all possible scenarios for months, as he watched the fertilizer prices rise.
The cost of urea rose from $400 to $1,000 per tonne. Miles has seen potash go up from $300 per ton earlier in the year to $800 now.
“It will cost $180 an acre more in nitrogen to grow corn in 2022 than it did in 2021. That’s not including the increased cost of all the other inputs we use to make our crops grow,” he estimates.
What is Matt Miles’ plan for 2022?
“We are managing risk by applying more manure on the P and K side,” Miles explains. Since 2006, he has been using poultry litter. “Litter costs are up a little, but nothing like the synthetic prices. The problem is that supply of litter is short due to many new farmers taking litter.”
Miles is exploring new methods to increase nitrogen efficiency. “We are looking at more utilization of products to help better manage our nitrogen in the soil. I am looking at nitrogen fixing products such as Pivot Bio Proven 40,” he says.
Miles is hesitant to change his crop rotations but is still considering his options, as he has many crops to choose from.
Kelly Garrett, Arion in Iowa
What’s happening in Iowa?
Kelly Garrett farms 6,000 acres in Iowa of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. He set the state record in 2021 for highest irrigated yield of corn at 387.9 bushels an acre. Despite high fertilizer prices, he’s hoping to keep the momentum going for the 2022 growing season.
What is Kelly Garrett’s plan for 2022?
Garrett applied as much fertilizer in the fall as he could at the prices he had in advance.
He’s trying to purchase spring supplies, like starter fertilizer, now to ensure his own inventory and protect against continued price increases.
Changing crop rotations is not on Garrett’s radar. “We feel that the rotation we had in 2021 was the most profitable choice. That same rotation, which is about two-thirds corn and one-third beans, will be the most profitable rotation going forward for next year with the federal crop insurance prices on corn and beans,” he says.
Gregory, South Dakota, Lee Lubbers
What’s happening in South Dakota?
Lee Lubbers owns 17,000 acres of dryland corn, soybeans, and wheat in Gregory, South Dakota. In his region, fertilizer prices more than doubled from the first of August. Many retailers wouldn’t give prices and commitments to customers since they couldn’t get product secured.
Lubbers is grateful he bought fertilizer mid-summer. “Luckily, we have a long-term relationship with our supplier and were able to buy existing carryover product. If not for that, we would have been exposed like everyone else,” he says.
What is Lee Lubbers’ plan for 2022?
Because there are no large-scale feeding operations in Lubbers’ area, he doesn’t have the same options for manure his peers in the South have. There’s no sizeable supply of manure to be had.
Lubbers doesn’t plan to change fertilizer application practices in the upcoming season. “We have separate rates on fields and utilize soil tests as well,” he says. “Since we have a good price on our fertility program, we definitely do not want to cut rates either. Our fertility program is a high ROI piece of our potential yield puzzle.”
They’re sticking to the original crop rotation plan on the Lubbers farm, too. “We don’t want to chase a market or throw off our rotation,” Lubbers says. “There is a lot of value in running our rotation in our operation. It affects workload, equipment, cash flow, yield potential, disease, and water management.”
Source: Successful Farming