Trouble For Micros

The micronutrient outlook for the rest of 2006 can be looked at in two different ways, according to Jerry Stoller, president of Stoller Enterprises, Inc., Houston, TX. Good news or bad news first? We’ll go ahead and get the bad news out of the way.

The price of metals has increased so much during the past year that the cost of broadcasting zinc, manganese, and copper is very expensive.

“This will drive more people to put micronutrients in their starter fertilizer or infurrow,” Stoller says. “They will be using approximately 10% to 20% of the amount that would be needed if they broadcast-applied the micronutrients.”

Paul McCoy, Jr., president of NutriChem, a supplier partner to American Minerals, Dunedin, FL, notes that the high prices of macronutrients has created an unfortunate trickle down effect.

“Even when prices go high for major nutrients, growers aren’t going to grow anything without the NPK (nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium) products,” he says. “Unfortunately the first thing that gets eliminated is micronutrients,” he says.

Zinc and copper have been the most troublesome micronutrients for 2006, McCoy says.’

“Zinc and copper prices are just out of sight,” he says. “They’ve been totally out of control because there’s just not a whole lot out there.”

Kerry Green, marketing director for Wolf Trax, Inc., Winnipeg, MB, CAN, agrees reduced availability has certainly posed a challenge.

“Worldwide production of zinc and copper materials is stagnant or decreasing and demand in markets (other than agriculture) is creating shortages in the agricultural market,” he says.

This, coupled with rising fuel and transportation costs, has resulted in price increases and volatility, particularly on granular products, Green says.

Spreading Some Good News

But now for the good news: Due to uptrends for ethanol and biodiesel, the support price underneath corn and soybeans looks very positive, Stoller says. This would be the first indicator that the demand for micronutrients should improve in 2007, Stoller says.

Also, the demand for micronutrients is directly proportional to crop prices, which spells positive news for the micro industry.

“This year should deliver stability and good prices; therefore, the inherent demand for micronutrients should increase,” Stoller says. “However, there will probably be a switch from granular micronutrients towards liquid micronutrients to reduce the current year’s expenditures.”

According to Green, producers are becoming increasingly aware of micronutrients’ role in crop production. For example, top producers are conscious of the general zinc deficiencies in North America and apply it as a matter of practice with corn. Getting into the “habit” of micronutrient investment is slowly spreading to other crops, too.

“I would say there is a growing body of producers and retailers who have a much better understanding of micronutrients, their role in crop production, and the impact on crop production and return on investment (ROI) when these nutrients are not available in sufficient amounts,” Green says.

Green says the negative impact of micronutrient deficiencies on plant health, quality, and ROI may be pushing some to take a second look.

Also, recent studies conducted at Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, and Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, have resulted in awareness of the role manganese plays in glyphosate-tolerant soybean production.

Weather Or Not

In agricultural production, weather always plays a role, Green says.

“Generally speaking, when environmental conditions are favorable, producers are more inclined to invest in their crop,” he says. “We have experienced positive growth across North America this past year, so I would say weather conditions have been somewhat positive for micros.”

McCoy says NutriChem sales have been holding steady and weather has only shifted timing. Sales were slower in the beginning part of the summer, which is unusual, and then very busy the latter part of June and beginning of July.

“You never know because weather can go either way,” he says. “You can have a drought in one part of the country while another part is getting hit by floods.”

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