Fertilizer: The Economic Downturn

The economic downturn slowed the global GDP -1.1% in 2009, tapered U.S. output to -2.7%, and disrupted the normal smooth flow of fertilizer from producers through the distribution chain to growers.

Beginning with the onset of the downturn, growers around the world reduced their fertilizer applications. Recognizing that nitrogen is not banked in the soil from one year to the next at significant levels, they trimmed this nutrient the least. For the period including the fall 2008 and spring 2009, global nitrogen applications were 2% below those in the preceding fall/spring period.

For phosphate and potash, many growers chose to substantially cut applications, relying on nutrients resident in the soil bank to feed the new crop. Global phosphate applications dropped 10% year-over-year, while potash applications fell 18%.

Some individual markets were affected to a greater degree. In the U.S., comparing the period including fall 2008 and spring 2009 to the previous fall and spring, nitrogen applications were down 10%, phosphate dropped 30%, and potash plunged 40%.

What Happened To The Food Crisis?

Although the food shortages and accompanying riots that were experienced in many countries around the world in early 2008 were pushed out of the news by the onset of The Great Recession, they have not been forgotten.

“For the first time in history, more than one billion people are undernourished worldwide,” said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “The recent downward adjustment (in the economy) should not be interpreted as the end of the food crisis.”

What impact will the nutrient cutbacks have on the world’s food supply?

Before any harvest information was available, the response to this question from the International Plant Nutrition Institute was this: “There isn’t a simple answer. The impact of the cutbacks on crop yields depends on a complex interplay of many factors. These include soil nutrient test levels, along with stress on the crops from weather, insects, and disease. Crop genetics and site-specific factors may aggravate or reduce the impact.”

Work carried out at Purdue Univer­sity assigns probabilities to the potential outcomes of fertilizing soils tested as having various levels of residual nutrients.

Soils tested as having a very high residual nutrient level provide both a low probability and a low magnitude for crops to achieve a yield increase. Both the probability and magnitude of a yield response are projected to be less than 5%. As soil tests indicate progressively lower nutrient levels, the probability of achieving a yield response becomes higher, and the magnitude of the increase also grows. For soils testing very low in nutrient content, the probability of a yield response rises to over 80%, and the magnitude of the response climbs to 50%.

The interplay of the different factors that affect the growing crop means that the impact of the fertilizer cutbacks on the food supply also depends on how deeply the crops are stressed by their growing conditions.

Harvests from the crops planted in the Southern Hemisphere in fall 2008 and from crops planted in the Northern Hemisphere in spring 2009 provided the answer, which matched expectations.

Crop yields in the areas of the world that experienced weather stress declined significantly from yields obtained from the previous harvest. In a couple areas where either excellent or substantially improved growing conditions were experienced, an improvement in crop yields was attained.

Soybean yields in Brazil and Ar­gentina, stressed by drought, were reduced 8% and 29%, respectively.

Wheat yields rose 5% in Australia, where more normal weather followed the extreme drought of the previous year. Declines in wheat yields occurred in several countries: Ukraine -19%, Russia -13%, EU-27 -4%, and Canada -4%.

In India, a late, severe monsoon season partly fueled a 4% decline in the rice yield.

Corn yields in the U.S., boosted by very favorable growing weather, rose 6%, while yields in China, with dry conditions, saw a 7% drop.

What Global Indicators Say

While the jury is still out on the response by growers to these results from the recent global harvests, several of the indicators to watch that affect this decision support a return to normal fertilization.

While lower than the levels immediately prior to the global recession, projected global economic growth for 2010 remains buoyant. In its October 2009 prediction of economic growth, the International Monetary Fund projected the global economy to achieve a 3.1% improvement in 2010, similar to the 3.2% long-term average.

Growth for the U.S. economy was forecast to be 1.5%, which compares to the 2% average for the period 1999 to 2009.

Futures prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans are significantly above the 10-year average, and grower economics reflect this.

Prices for several other commodities, including sugar, rice, coffee, bananas, and palm oil are also well above the 10-year average.

The cost of fertilizer as a percentage of crop revenue is favorable for crops around the world.

Most growers have seen clear evidence that soils with good nutrient levels provide their best chance of achieving good harvests in the face of the many potential crop stressors.

The withdrawal of nutrients from the world’s soil banks by the crops harvested since the second half of 2008 are not sustainable. They must be replaced.

The recent response of growers in the U.S. Midwest may provide the best look into the future. The U.S. corn crop matured late in the year, pushing back the fall fertilizer application season and with it, the opportunity to have an early peek at growers’ reaction to the market conditions. However, once the crop had been taken off, all fertilizers moved briskly through the supply chain and into the soil. The fall season in this part of the world, which had been slow waiting for the bare soil needed to apply nutrients, quickly turned into a shortened period of excellent applications.

The Road Back To Normalcy

Inventory destocking is a standard feature of recessionary periods. For the global fertilizer industry, non-producer inventories, both in the bins and in the soil bank, have been mostly destocked around the world and need to be refilled.

For the global fertilizer markets in the first half of 2010, normal to strong movement is expected for product to flow from producers through the supply chain and into the soils in the U.S. and around the world.

A temporary change in fertilizer inventory management practices accompanied the economic downturn. Retailers revised their normal inven­tory min-max levels sharply downward, moving to just-in-time inventory management and looking to the producer to carry the inventory. These lower inventories at the farm supply level may lead to a spring season during which the need to quickly move product into position will pose a major challenge to the supply chain.

While the outlook is for a normal to strong spring season, logistical challenges may limit the amount of fertilizer that can be applied.

Encouraging signs for the economy, crop prices, and fertilizer markets indicate the world is poised for a return to the normal business of maximizing food production.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location In Indiana
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
corn field
CropLife 100The Andersons’ Humic DG Now Available In Canada
February 13, 2015
The Andersons, Inc. Turf & Specialty Group has announced its Humic DG product is now available to customers in the Canadian turf, agriculture and horticulture markets. Read More
Farmer on tablet
CropLife 100Southern States Co-op: An Inside Look At Our Aerial Imagery Program
February 8, 2015
Now is as good a time as any to explore the basics of what a retail aerial imagery program looks like today. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Inks Satellite Imagery Agreement
February 3, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Company has reached an agreement with Planet Labs to bring satellite imagery to the AgVerdict software platform. Read More
Latest News
CropLife 100Pinnacle Expands Sanders Brand In The South
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle has acquired Hopkins Seed and Chemical in Qulin, MO, which expands the company's Sanders brand to nine Southern states. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Launches New Providence Agriculture Location I…
February 27, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings — ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100 — has established a new retail location in New Castle, IN, which will operate as part of Pinnacle's Providence Agriculture brand. Read More
Management2,4-D Celebrates 70 Years; GROWMARK Uses Super Bowl Ad …
February 27, 2015
Jim Gray, executive director of the 2,4-D Research Task Force, lays out planned activities to mark the chemistry’s 70th anniversary. Read More
HerbicidesUniversity Of Arkansas Flag The Technology Program Adds…
February 27, 2015
Started in 2010, the Flag the Technology program provides a visual reference for applicators to distinguish between fields planted with different herbicide-tolerant trait technologies. Read More
Luckey Farmers, Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center
Industry NewsLuckey Farmers’ Berkey Branch Certified In 4R Nut…
February 26, 2015
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced Luckey Farmers Inc.’s Berkey Farm Center in northwest Ohio has been added to its growing list of nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Crop InputsWinField Unveiling NutriVision Technology, Ascend Dry F…
February 24, 2015
New for 2015 are NutriVision Technology, a unique tool for monitoring in-season plant nutrient availability, and Ascend WSG plant growth regulator, a new dry formulation of Ascend plant growth regulator. Read More
FertilizerNew Formulation Of NutriSphere-N Protects High Volume U…
February 24, 2015
Verdesian Life Sciences is launching NutriSphere-N HVTM, a new polymer formulation of the proven NutriSphere-N Nitrogen Fertilizer Manager that protects high-volume applications of UAN. Read More
EquipmentIowa Ag Secretary Northey Names Hagie Water Quality Lea…
February 24, 2015
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has named Hagie Mfg. as a recipient of the Secretary’s Water Quality Initiative (WQI) Leader Award. Read More
FungicidesEvito Fungicide Gives Canadian Wheat Growers New Diseas…
February 24, 2015
EVITO fungicide from Arysta LifeScience North America gives Canadian wheat and barley growers a new option for disease control. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Commodity Classic Turns 20
February 23, 2015
Two decades in, this annual gathering of all things agriculture has become a must-see event. Read More
CropLife 100Cooperative CHS Returns $518 Million To Owners
February 23, 2015
The 2015 cash return to owners is based on CHS net income of $1.1 billion, the company's second highest on record. Read More
ManagementCropLife Retail Week: On The Road Edition
February 20, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent trips to the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville and the Read More
Crop InputsLand O’Lakes Acquires FLM+ Assets
February 19, 2015
FLM+ will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Land O'Lakes, Inc., and the company will retain its employee base after closing of the deal, which is scheduled for the second quarter of the year. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnited Suppliers, Stine Seed Form Marketing Alliance
February 19, 2015
The new alliance will greatly expand sales opportunities for Stine Seed with the United Supplier Seed Link Owners. Read More
Crop InputsVilsack To Deliver Commodity Classic Keynote Address
February 19, 2015
The secretary will deliver a keynote address to several thousand farmers and ag allies during the event's General Session, to be held Friday, February 27, in Phoenix, AZ. Read More
Crop InputsSoybean Storage Tips
February 19, 2015
On-farm storage of soybeans requires some special considerations compared to corn. Read More
Monsanto Sign
Crop InputsBioAg Alliance Delivers Promising Field Trial Results
February 19, 2015
In its first full year of field trials, the BioAg Alliance reported that the top 10 microbial strains tested in corn and soybeans showed very promising results. Read More
National Farm Machinery Show overview
EquipmentNational Farm Machinery Show Attendance Up By 16K
February 18, 2015
The 2015 event saw the second highest attendance total of all time as 310,589 attendees that included exhibitors and agribusiness professionals traveled to the Kentucky Exposition Center to participate in the nation’s largest indoor ag trade show. Read More