Searching For Stability

After a tumultuous year in 2008 and a slow start to the 2009 season, the fertilizer industry is searching for normalcy. While it may never return to the predictable market and buying patterns of the past, it is likely to reclaim more stability in the year ahead.

Experiences of the past year have emphasized some important trends which impact everyone in the supply chain — from the fertilizer producer down through the distributor, dealer, and grower. The business has truly become more global; its success in the future depends largely on developing more efficient distribution, and effective buying and risk management strategies now need to adapt to the more volatile times.

Global Market

If events of the past year have taught us anything, it’s that global access in today’s fertilizer business is essential. CHS is working to maximize its global grain marketing infrastructure and grow its global sourcing capabilities to build an information network for both the input and output sides of agriculture. We’re pursuing this approach because the two sides of the business have become closely intertwined, giving us unique insights we can use to help our customers be more competitive.

The shift in where products are produced in recent years has greatly impacted how and when we buy. Today, 66% of the urea, 20% to 25% of the UAN, and much of the ammonia U.S. growers use is imported. The result is that over half of total U.S. nitrogen used by growers is now imported. Due to the relatively high U.S. cost of natural gas — the main ingredient in ammonia — we will continue to see new nitrogen production built in the Arab Gulf and other gas-rich regions.

Phosphate and potash supplies produced in North America still dominate those markets, and that’s not likely to change in the near future. The only significant import of either of these is potash from Russia, which makes up less than 10% of the market.

Our current challenge with product supply stems from lack of demand, which has been caused in part by the current global credit crisis. It has led to the shutdown of a significant portion of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash production capacity in recent months, so the industry currently doesn’t have enough production up and running to meet all seasonal demand. That could cause tightness in some markets through the spring season this year.

Moving Product

Adequate infrastructure is crucial to most businesses, but now we live or die by it in the crop nutrient industry. You base inventory management on your storage capacity and ability to move product where it’s needed. The U.S. crop nutrient distribution system has, for the most part, sufficient storage to cover demands for each season — spring and fall. Much of the new capacity that’s being added will provide increased logistical and transportation efficiencies. For CHS, a recent example is a new facility in Friona, TX. When completed later this spring, the new warehouse will provide storage, blending, and rail loadout capabilities to better serve our customers throughout Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and parts of southern Kansas and Colorado. We’ll gain transportation efficiencies because it has been built near our existing grain handling facilities.

We’ll continue to see consolidation of older assets to take advantage of unit train efficiencies and other ways to remove cost from the system. We’ve already seen quite a few new hub plants built for the same reason and expect to see more pop up in the next few years. The key here is that dealers and distributors must ensure real cost savings are achieved with new facilities and that the added risk of big one-time fertilizer buys can be managed.

Buying Strategies

While last year’s price run-ups were a historic anomaly, something similar could happen again. Hopefully the industry will be better able to react, and react sooner, if it does. To do that, it is important to track key market factors, such as relative world natural gas prices, commodity prices, and projected food demand. They can provide some insights into future supply and demand issues.

But for the dealer and grower, it is critical to develop a buying strategy. Trying to call the bottom of the market is much too risky in today’s volatile conditions. Start by committing a general plan to paper that outlines product volumes needed, based on historic averages.

Then, look at ways to spread out purchases, buying in 1,000-ton increments, if necessary, to even out the effects of price swings. Everyone wants to hit a home run and buy all their product at the lowest price, but that’s just not feasible in today’s markets. Markets move much more quickly than they used to, so making more, smaller purchases is a good way to help reduce price risk.

Many cooperatives now limit their unsold inventory, replacing it only when they make sales. Making those sales also depends on good, regular communication with customers. While this spring has been a particularly challenging time to get commitments on crop nutrients, it’s important to keep open those lines of communications with customers and use them frequently. You need to be able to react as quickly as you can to secure product for your customers when they make decisions.

Fertilizer prepayment has become widespread and is a policy that is likely to stay. There’s simply too much risk involved for any business to continue to extend credit beyond 15 to 30 days, unless it’s through some structured in-house credit plan.

For growers, the real key is to market their crops to the best of their abilities, and not become too anxious over input purchases. By layering product purchases and backing those purchases with grain sales, they can lock in margins, greatly reducing risk. And growers can generate more income through timely marketing of outputs than they could ever save through the most astute fertilizer buying.

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

Tiger Sul Crop Nutrient Calculator
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launches New Nutrient Calculator App
November 12, 2015
H.J. Baker, a global agriculture firm, has launched a new agronomic nutrient calculator app. This innovative and powerful tool will Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Hosting Chinese Delegation
November 12, 2015
International Agricultural firm, H.J. Baker, is hosting a delegation from Beijing Xinhefeng Agrochemicals Co., Ltd. (XHF), a leading distributor of Read More
corn field
FertilizerWest Central Distribution Launches Levesol DFC
November 5, 2015
Levesol DFC, a dry fertilizer compatible version, joins the original Levesol as another option for growers to maximize the potential Read More
Corn Split N Useful To Useable Tool
FertilizerU2U Corn Nitrogen Management Tool Updated, Expanded
November 3, 2015
The Purdue University-based Useful to Usable climate initiative is taking some of the guesswork out of crop nitrogen management for Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100United Cooperative Acquires Four ADM Wisconsin Facilities
November 12, 2015
United Cooperative, based out of Beaver Dam, WI, recently acquired four grain and agronomy locations from Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Car Makes NASCAR Xfinity Series
October 29, 2015
BRANDT will join JR Motorsports with driver, Justin Allgaier, for the 2016 NASCAR Xfinity (NXS) Series season. Allgaier will pilot Read More
CHS Building exterior
CropLife 100CHS Leaders Help Shape Succession Report
October 22, 2015
Succession planning was listed as a main concern of cooperative leaders at this summer’s 15 regional CHS owner town hall Read More
Fall Harvest
CropLife 100Pinnacle Purchases Eight Regional Seed Companies
October 12, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings has announced the purchase of eight regional seed companies to advance its seed business. Pinnacle has acquired: Read More
MRM Agricultural Service
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires CropLife 100 Ag Retailer
October 8, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC has successfully acquired the Missouri-based agronomy business of MRM Agricultural Service, LLC and its affiliates (MRM). Operating Read More
Eric Jenks, Wilbur-Ellis
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Opens Dry Fertilizer Storage And Blending Facility In Washington
October 8, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co., ranked No. 4 on the CropLife 100, has constructed and opened a 22,000-ton dry fertilizer storage and blending Read More
Latest News
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More
Fall Harvest
Seed/BiotechArysta Launches New Seed Protectant
November 19, 2015
As spring wheat growers begin planning for a strong start to their season, Arysta LifeScience North America announces RANCONA V Read More
Crop InputsInocucor Receives U.S. Patent For Microbials
November 19, 2015
Inocucor Technologies Inc., the Montreal-based agriculture biotech company, was issued patent No. 9,175,258 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect Read More
ManagementSyngenta Rumors and ARA 2015 Preview
November 19, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj looks at the latest rumors involving Syngenta selling its crop protection business and talks about events Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
High Plains Aquifer
StewardshipStudy: High Plains Aquifer Overall Usage In Decline
November 18, 2015
A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge Read More
Golden Harvest Corn healthy leaves
FungicidesArysta Launches New Corn And Soybean Fungicide
November 17, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America has recently launched ZOLERA FX Fungicide. The highly systemic, powerful fungicide delivers broad-spectrum disease control with Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsBioAg Alliance: Microbials Targeted For 250-500 million…
November 17, 2015
Monsanto and Novozymes have announced a new 2025 acreage target that will guide the companies’ microbials business for the next Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Still Being Eyed For China Takeover
November 16, 2015
China National Chemical Corp. approached sovereign wealth funds including China Investment Corp. to help pay for a potential acquisition of Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojCooperative Consolidation Continues
November 16, 2015
As I put this enewsletter column together, we’ve just put the finishing touches on our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 report. Read More
Cornfield near Sioux City Iowa
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Sells Oxyfluorfen Herbicides To China&…
November 16, 2015
Dow AgroSciences LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Co., has entered into definitive agreements under which Nutrichem Read More
HerbicidesEuropean Agency Declares Glyphosate Unlikely To Cause C…
November 13, 2015
Glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said on Thursday, and the agency Read More