with Robin Boom
Agronomic Advisory Services
At the beginning of December both Ballance and Ravensdown lifted their prices on many of their base fertiliser products. Superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and Urea all went up around 10 per cent, compared to July 2020. Superphosphate is now 20 per cent more expensive, sulphur and muriate of potash are 30 per cent more expensive, sulphate of ammonia is 40 per cent more expensive, DAP and triple super 70 per cent more expensive and urea has almost doubled in price. There are still some private importers who are selling products cheaper than both co-operatives, but once rebates and logistic issues are factored in, the price differential narrows or disappears.
Some farmers have suggested to me that these price lifts are driven by the current high milk and meat prices farmers are being paid, but this is not the case. There is no price-gouging by the fertiliser companies, but rather the price lifts are due to the increased international fertiliser prices, partly driven by lack of supply, and also the increased shipping costs. Ravensdown have made the call that they will not be putting up their prices again until at least May 2022, so this should take the pressure off hill country farmers in particular, trying to get their annual fertiliser on earlier in case prices go up in the interim.
Nitrogen boosted pasture was costing around 10c/kg DM in 2020, but now it is around 20c/kg DM, but it is still probably the cheapest additional feed that can be purchased compared to PKE, grains, hay or silage. Even summer crops, while providing important stock feed in dry conditions will be costing 15-35c/kg DM depending on the crop itself. The cheapest feed however is addressing soil nutrient deficiencies of P, K, S, lime and trace elements. These were costing 3-5c/kg DM, but with current prices these will now be 5-7c/kg DM as long as these are applied to soils with known deficiencies.
Where all of the nutrient levels are adequate, maintaining these is important to prevent any future drop in pasture production, so is still an economic exercise. It is only where there are excessive levels that not applying a particular nutrient or nutrients should be considered. This is where soil and herbage testing is so important in identifying which elements are low and whether capital, maintenance or sub-maintenance/nil rates of fertiliser should be applied.
There has been minor shifts in lime prices, although Ravensdown have been running a special on their Supreme lime for December with 6c/tonne off and another 6c/tonne off application if applied by Wanganui Aero Works for hill country farmers. The trace elements zinc and copper have increased around 25 per cent since last year, but cobalt, selenium, boron, manganese and molybdenum have remained fairly stable.
With Covid-19, some of the fertiliser companies have made health and safety decisions, and told their reps and other staff they are not allowed to meet in person with unvaccinated farmers and growers, and can only contact them via Zoom or telephone. I have a number of clients who have not been jabbed and insist that they will not get jabbed on principle. Although double-jabbed myself, I cannot see how the unvaccinated are a threat to the vaccinated, and I dislike the increased pressure, coercion, division and alienation it has caused within families and the community.
I believe a person should be sovereign over their own bodies, and have the right to choose what they want inserted into them, much like a land owner makes the ultimate decision on what is applied to his/her land. The farmer may listen to the advice of a professional, but not all professionals will agree, as the advice is often given with the vested interests of a particular company. There can also be down-stream consequences of what is applied to the soil as far as the environment is concerned, so there is a responsibility on the land owner on fertiliser decisions which may negatively affect the community. So too the decision of being vaccinated or not and any down-stream consequences this has on the community as a whole. Being self-employed, I have no qualms meeting up with unvaccinated clients. I do not believe they are a threat to me nor should they be held out as pariahs and discriminated against. We will all eventually catch one of the Covid variants.
It must be difficult being a politician these days, as whatever decision they make, there are going to be unhappy people. They listen to certain advisors who often have a very narrow perspective and are focussed on one thing, such as health, whereas their advice may negatively affect other things like the economy, unemployment, mental well-being, domestic and community cohesion etc. Similarly with the Environment, Three Waters, and Climate Change policies, the government will listen to certain advisors which will have negative consequences down-stream on certain other communities.