with Robin Boom
Agronomic Advisory Services
For many maize and kiwifruit growers, the high cost of fertilisers last year will have made a huge dent in any profit as they are both nutrient hungry crops.
With a late frost followed by a wet and overcast summer as well as two cyclones, the weather was not great for these heat and sunshine demanding crops.
Fortunately the volatility in fertiliser prices we have seen the past couple of years is declining as international prices are settling down.
Both fertiliser co-ops have dropped their prices on nitrogen products by 35 per cent with urea prices dropping from $1200/tonne to $800/tonne, and I would expect prices to drop even lower during the season. Looking at international prices from the Mundi Index, the price of urea peaked at around $900US/tonne back in April 2022, and is currently sitting around $300US/tonne, so has dropped down to a third of its peak price in just over 12 months. It is still however $100US/tonne dearer than what it was pre Covid. Sulphate of Ammonia has recently dropped from over $900/tonne to just over $500/tonne, making it only $100 dearer here in New Zealand than what it was pre-pandemic.
The international phosphate prices are largely dictated by DAP, MAP and Triple Super, and these commodities have also been highly volatile. Pre pandemic, the international price of DAP traded around $300-400 US/tonne, selling in New Zealand for around $750-800/tonne, and like urea it peaked at over $900US/tonne in March/April 2022, but has since halved to just over $450US/tonne. The co-op prices have recently dropped from $1800/tonne down to $1200/tonne, and I would expect further falls to occur through the season. Pre pandemic, the international price of rock phosphate ranged between $70-100US/tonne, but is now sitting around $340/tonne which is the highest it has been for the past 10 years by a long shot. So do not expect the price of superphosphate to drop any time soon. Both co-ops have kept their superphosphate price similar to what it was 12 months ago. Triple Super and MAP prices tend to follow the same trend as DAP, having come off their highs just over 12 months ago, so for hill country farmers triple super could be a good option to consider this season, although both co-ops are currently $200/tonne more expensive than some smaller importers. RPR pricing is more aligned to the international prices of phosphate rock, so like superphosphate is not likely to drop in the short term.
Pre-pandemic, the international price of potassium chloride (muriate of potash) varied between $200-300US/tonne. It sky-rocketed to more than $1100US/tonne April last year, driven by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with embargoes placed against Russia and Belarus who together supplied large volumes of potassium to the rest of the world, with Canada being the other main supplier. Fortunately over the past 12 months
the price for potash has been dropping, and is now just over $300US/tonne. Both the co-ops dropped their price of $1550/tonne down to $1100/tonne this month, and I would envisage as they continue to sell stock these prices will ease further. With these lower prices, for high potassium demanding crops like maize and kiwifruit the fertiliser costs will not be such a bitter pill to swallow compared to last season.
The cost of testing the soil to find out what it needs is still miniscule compared to the fertiliser costs, so ensure you are not wasting money on nutrients not required, and seek independent advice.