Marysville Appeal-Democrat

Price of fertilizer on the steep rise

- Tribune News Service Star Tribune

Dion Letcher’s family has run a fertilizer business in Garden City, Minnesota, on the flat plains south of Mankato since the Eisenhower administra­tion. Letcher is still not sure how to explain the accelerate­d costs of the chemical nutrients farmers use to feed corn and soybeans.

“Fertilizer is probably not going down for a year or more,” Letcher said on Tuesday, noting producers in China, Venezuela and Russia. “Because a lot of fertilizer comes from kind of dictator-y countries that kind of don’t like us too much.”

For the last two years, the cost of retail fertilizer has shot up. At April’s end, agricultur­e journalist­s with DTN tracked the price at $1,090 a ton, highest since 2008.

Many farmers rely on the “big 3” — nitrogen, phosphorou­s and potassium — to boost crop production. While many growers already applied fertilizer to fields last fall for this year’s growing cycle, they’re worried about the rising costs for this coming autumn.

“I know we’re awful thankful we have manure from our cattle,” said

Eunice Biel, who farms with her husband outside Harmony, Minn. “Although that isn’t enough.”

Biel, who farms 450 acres of corn, bought fertilizer last fall for $80,000 from her local elevator — double the $40,000 she spent a year earlier. “It’s just like the gas prices,” said Biel. “The corporatio­ns can do it [raise the price], so they do it.”

Mike Peterson grows corn, soybeans and a little wheat on his farm off Highway 19 near Carleton College outside Northfield,

Minnesota. He too suspects fertilizer companies are taking advantage of the situation.

“If you can imagine the mining industry that it takes,” said Peterson. “They’re not bagging this stuff by hand. There’s not a lot of labor per ton in.

“They’re charging two times what’s logical for the product.”

Often carried in local cooperativ­es or at dealers, fertilizer is mined around the world, but the world’s largest producer is China, followed by the U.S. and Russia. Canada is also a leading exporter.

Locally, much of the fertilizer used on the eastern half of the state is brought up the Mississipp­i River on barges to be sold and applied by local dealers. The vendors say they’re just the middlemen.

“We have everything in the shed for the spring,” said Ralph Price, agronomy manager at Meadowland­s Farmers Coop in Lamberton, Minnesota.

“But everybody’s worried about the future. They’re set for a very, very good 2022. But 2023 doesn’t look good.”

Industry officials say the costs are rooted in a “perfect storm” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in eastern Europe, supply-side logjams and inflation. There are also nuances — some suggest countries, such as Morocco, have been dumping fertilizer in U.S. markets. China also suspended some fertilizer exports last fall.

“You’re seeing less supply,” said Patrick

Murray, executive director of the Minnesota Crop Production Retailers, noting many sellers are locally-owned farmers’ cooperativ­es. “The last thing they would want to do is raise prices on themselves.”

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