Howard Doster, the long-time Extension ag economist at Purdue University who is now retired, says farmers need to be sure to use current fertilizer prices, and not information printed by some sources last fall, when calculating budgets for 2011. It's no secret that fertilizer prices, particularly for potash and phosphorus have gone up, although they're not yet at levels farmers saw two years ago.
One large dealer told Indiana Prairie Farmer that his people hear various stories from both potash and phosphorus distributors. Supposedly, five of six operating potash mines were shut down for maintenance last summer, all at the same time.
Another rumor says that a big deal with India is siphoning off product that should be flowing to U.S. wholesalers and retailers for sale to farmers. The bottom line of all these stories is that fertilizer input costs are up. Prices dropped two years ago after commodity prices dropped significantly. Now with prices back up again, fertilizer prices are edging upwards again too.
One fertilizer dealer says that price isn't the only issue. With the early harvest, many farmers opted to spread this fall, despite the problems in obtaining accurate soil samples because soils were so dry,. Those problems involved both getting samples physically pulled at the same depth each time, and the effects dry weather can have on both pH and potassium readings.
Potassium levels tend to be lower if samples are pulled in a dry year. If you've already applied fertilizer and your consultant wants to pull samples now, most agronomists don't advise it. That's because some of what's just been applied will be picked up in the new soil sample and skews the results.
The issue with pH is an accumulation of salts when it doesn't rain for an extended period of time. While work at Kentucky in the past few years indicated pH can be lower by up to half a pH point if it's dry, most agronomist and dealers don't believe pH levels are that far off on samples pulled this fall. Phosphorus is generally not affected at all by dry spoils.
Since many farmers spread fertilizer, dealerships went through supplies quick. Those that rely on trains to deliver their product have been disappointed in some cases. There's been trouble getting trains cars of product, causing delays of up to two weeks, and when trains do finally show up, they may be short on the number of cars promised.
The train reports coincide with observations by Mike Steenhoek, Soy Transportation Coalition, who said his survey also showed more problems with grain transportation by railroad this fall in the eastern half of the U.S. compared to the western half.