Is There About To Be A Fertilizer Shortage?

A large portion of Canadian and American prairies could experience a shortage of fertilizers in the spring, according to specialists. This is the consequence of the particularly wet weather of autumn 2019.

Between the torrential rains and early snow , many farmers were unable to spread fertilizer. The harvest was late and some crops have still not been harvested.

“It started with rains in September. Here in Saint-Jean [south of Winnipeg], we received almost 40 centimeters of rain in September and October, which prevented us from doing our work in the fields in the fall,” says the agronomist and property from Antara, Brunel Sabourin.

“It also caused him delays in the harvest. By the time we finished harvesting the soybeans and corn, the snow came early,” he continued.

In this region of North America, farmers are used to spreading fertilizer equally in the fall and spring.

Almost all of western Canada and the central north of the United States have not had a chance to fertilize this fall, so that means putting everything in the spring. We’re potentially going to have logistics problems , says Brunel Sabourin.

Logistics blockages

Farm Futures magazine columnist and longtime agricultural market analyst Bryce Knorr is following the fertilizer market in the central north of the United States with particular interest.

“We have an unusual situation. Fertilizer prices have been at their lowest in the last 10 or 15 years. The challenge is to transport the fertilizer to the international market, where the farmers really need it. It has been a challenge in the past two years due to unusual weather conditions,” he says.

According to him, a sharp increase in demand in the spring creates congestion in the fertilizer distribution network. Much of the fertilizer used in the northern United States, and in western Canada comes from abroad or the southern tip of the United States.

The fertilizer therefore travels up the Mississippi in barges, before being transported to warehouses by train or truck.

Consequences for farmers

The agronomist estimates that only 10 to 20% of the farmers with whom he does business were able to buy and store fertilizer in the fall. In the event of a spring flood, the last to be able to spread their fertilizer could come up against empty warehouses.

A fertilizer shortage can have many impacts on the producer side, says Bryce Knorr. They could decide to change the seeds in their fields, eliminating corn, for example, since it is fond of nitrogen, a basic element of many fertilizers. Sowing may also be delayed, and crop yields will necessarily be lower.

While such consequences can cost farmers dearly, the consumer is unlikely to feel the impact of a fertilizer shortage on the prices of products such as bread or meat, due to the many processing steps between harvest and the product consumed.

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