Great Explanations

Anhydrous ammonia tank

Confusing. Frustrating. Com­plicated. When talking about the state of the fertilizer industry, these are just some of the words being tossed about by ag retailers and suppliers to describe what being involved in this business is like in 2009. (Editor’s note: Several other words are also commonly used in current fertilizer conversations, but none of these are fit for print because of their nature, definition, or social standing.)

Although it was a tall order, one man recently tried to put the entire state of the fertilizer industry into perspective. At the Wisconsin Crop Production Association annual meeting in mid-January, Joe Dillier, plant food marketing manager for GROWMARK, presented a speech on how fertilizer came to be in its current place in the agricultural community, offering a bit of historical insight and future projections along the way.

“I’m here today to talk about fertilizer and the way it is, and this probably won’t make anybody in this room happy,” said Dillier. “There’s a lot of consternation in the fertilizer market, and the big question on everyone’s mind is: How come it is the way it is?”

Starting out, Dillier explained just how different today’s fertilizer outlook is vs. the one being commonly accepted back in mid-2008. “Last summer, the fertilizer market was unbelievably strong, as was the case for all commodities. Crude oil prices were peaking at $147 per barrel. Corn futures peaked at just below $7 per bushel in July.”

Likewise, fertilizer prices were going up in leaps and bounds. Some examples Dillier cited included urea, increasing from $200 per ton in November 2006 to $830 per ton in August 2008; phosphate rose from $220 per ton in November 2006 to $1,150 per ton in August 2008; and anhydrous ammonia jumped from $150 per metric ton in fall 2006 to $931 in summer 2008.

Naturally, said Dillier, with conventional wisdom believing these prices would continue to climb throughout 2008, many ag retailers bought their fertilizer allotments early and often. “With everyone in-the-know saying that these prices and those for fertilizer were going to continue going up through the rest of the year, you had people buying more and more fertilizer further forward than ever before,” he said. “In some cases, people were buying fertilizer for use in the fall of 2008 in January 2008, which is very untypical.”

A Different World

Ultimately, however, these projections of an ever-increasing price curve for fertilizer proved to be wrong. “Today, baby, it is a completely different era,” said Dillier. In many cases, he added, prices have fallen back to their 2006 levels or below, leaving plenty of large fertilizer inventories in the nation’s storage facilities depreciating by the week.

As for why this rollercoaster of price increases and decreases had occurred, Dillier pointed to several factors coming into play. During mid-2008, the expanding middle class around the globe meant there was higher demand for grains. These extra acres of crops demanded more fertilizer to grow, so prices rose. “This also meant we raised record crop harvests around the world, and when grain demand dropped a bit in the fall of 2008, so did commodity prices, which affected fertilizer as well.”

Of course, this globalization of fertilizer was another reason for the rapid rise and fall of fertilizer prices. “We have a much longer supply chain today for fertilizer than existed 10 years ago,” said Dillier. “We input 55% to 60% of our nitrogen into this country. It used to be distributors would give their customers a break on price if things changed drastically, and they would take back an order of fertilizer as a good-will gesture. But that was for fertilizer coming from a local source. When you have a freighter coming from the Middle East that’s been sold for a certain price, the distributor or retailer now expects this load to be sold and delivered for the price agreed upon weeks or months before.”

Corn Is Key

As for where the fertilizer industry goes from here, Dillier said it all ties back to one very important word: Corn. “In fertilizer, it’s all about how many acres of corn are going to get planted in the spring,” he said. “That will determine how high the price of fertilizer is in the spring and whether there’s ample supply or whether it’s scramble time and people might not have any to sell.”

At the time of his speech, Dillier said corn prices had recovered somewhat from their $3.50 per bushel low in early December 2008 to approximately $4.70 per bushel. However, he added, the price differential between fertilizer intensive corn and fertilizer friendly soybeans was not very significant, which could convince many growers to forego extra corn acres for 2009.

“Right now, early projections say that corn acreage could range anywhere from 82 million acres this year to 90 million acres,” said Dillier. “If we hit 90 million, given the current standoff in the marketplace, there will be a serious potential for fertilizer shortages around the country. If we are at 82 million, I think the industry will be OK.”

For ag retailers looking to figure out how to buy fertilizer in 2009, Dillier offered up this advice: Proceed slowly. “We are recommending to our retailers that they buy fertilizer in small pieces when their grower-customers buy fertilizer,” he said. “If your grower has sold 25% of his 2009 crop, than you buy 25% of the fertilizer they need.”

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 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechKaren Arthur Joins AgriThority As Seed Treatment Produc…
December 19, 2014
Prior to joining AgriThority, Arthur directed research and development programs, overseeing laboratory and field research, to build the Valent U.S.A. seed treatment portfolio. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere To Sell Crop Insurance Business
December 19, 2014
Deere & Co. has reached a definitive agreement to sell its crop insurance business, subject to regulatory approval, to Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa. Read More
Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More