with Robin Boom
Agronomic Advisory Services
We are beginning to see an interesting phase in the supply of standard fertiliser products.
Back in December Ravensdown promised it would hold the price of superphosphate until the end of May.
This was a great announcement as it gave hill country farmers in particular, six months to get their phosphate to airstrips and flown on without the worry or pressure to get their fertiliser on the ground before prices went up higher.
With a relatively dry autumn, access up airstrips has not been a problem in the Waikato and King Country and planes have been consistently busy over this period.
However Ravensdown hierarchy decided in their wisdom that from the May 1, any new orders would not be able to be uplifted until June, when the price goes up.
This scenario has led to irate farmers who have held off purchasing product due to not being able to get livestock sold earlier, believing they would be able to order and uplift their phosphate at the old price in May, now being told they will have to wait until June, when the price will increase and when getting up their airstrips could be more problematic.
My local Ravensdown store at Manunui is currently full of superphosphate, but I cannot get any for my own farm because of this policy at its current price. Rumours are that the new price will be significantly higher than what it currently is.
Ballance on the other hand have run out of superphosphate in most of their stores, but as a ship arrived on May 11, new product should be available from after the 20th, which leaves 10 days for farmers to get their fertiliser uplifted before the June 1.
So we have the unusual situation of Ravensdown having superphosphate in its stores, but refusing to sell it to anyone placing an order in May, and Ballance taking orders for superphosphate but not being able to supply it at the cheaper price until after the May 20.
Ballance also will be increasing the price of urea on May 20, having dropped the price by $50/tonne for two months to assist farmers through the autumn feed pinch. As I write (May 12) their price for urea is $130/tonne cheaper than Ravensdown.
Before the war in Ukraine started on February 24, commodity fertilisers were going up in price exponentially.
According to the Mundi Index, DAP rose from $US750 to $US950/tonne between February and March and Potassium Chloride rose from $US220 to $US560/tonne between January and March.
The three main potassium sources around the world have been Belarus, Russia and Canada.
Belarus has had a trade embargo against it for the past two years, and now with the Russian trade embargo, the demand and supply out of Canada will result in further escalation of potassium prices.
For crops with high potassium requirements such as maize and lucerne, this is going to impact significantly on the costs of these supplementary feeds.
Urea prices which reached $US900/tonne in November, dropped down to $US750/tonne by February and shot up again to $US900/tonne by March. Again the war in Ukraine will mean the cost of nitrogen products worldwide will continue to escalate. Rock phosphate prices increased from $US150/tonne to $US180/tonne between October and December, but remained fairly stable through early 2022. Triple super rose in price from $US685/tonne to $US785/tonne from February to March.
On top of this there are the ongoing shipping supply issues and fuel price increases which are feeding into the cost of fertilisers.
Asura Ltd has historically imported Sechura RPR for the past 30 years out of Peru but have been unable to get a shipment of this Rolls Royce natural fertiliser product for over a year.
Supplies of Algerian Phosphate Rock have all but dried up around the country, and the next shipment which may arrive later in spring is likely to be significantly higher priced.
Most of the trace elements that plants and animals require are also going up in price, particularly copper and cobalt as these are used in manufacturing.
For dairy farmers contemplating planting maize this coming season, I would recommend considering the use of effluent paddocks, or at least paddocks where cowshed effluent can be liberally applied as a cheap source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, so that the need to purchase additional fertiliser products will be minimal.
Other options such as chicken manure, whey, sludge, biochar, humates and composts could also be an alternative to conventional fertiliser products.
I have encouraged some of my maize growing clients to purchase their DAP and Urea products in bags early before the prices went up, although there is the risk that these can go hard or lumpy and not flow well through planters and top-dressers if not stored well.
I recommend getting soil testing done on maize paddocks sooner rather than later, so if the pH and calcium levels are down, lime can be applied to these sooner rather than later so that its benefits can realised for the new crop, rather than applying lime just before planting, when its dissolution in the soil is too slow to be fully effective.