Iowa AG to Examine Fertilizer Prices

Large Hikes in Fertilizer Prices Farmers Pay Prompts Closer Look by Iowa Attorney General

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller said his office will look into substantially higher fertilizer prices. (DTN photo by Matthew Wilde)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller said his office will look into the large increases in fertilizer prices paid by farmers. Miller recently discussed the issue with fellow attorneys general from eight other states, as well as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

In press conference Thursday morning, Miller said the leadership of the Iowa Corn Growers Association approached him with great concern about the dramatic rise in nutrient prices and how this will affect Iowa farmers.

Despite higher crop prices, rising fertilizer prices threaten to erode farmers' profits in the 2022 growing season, according to various ag groups.

Miller said he had a Zoom meeting with eight state attorneys general Wednesday to discuss the high fertilizer prices. He declined to name the other states.

He said he also had conversations with the leaders of the Iowa Soybean Association and Secretary Vilsack, who is a former Iowa governor. There is some activity at the federal level with this particular subject, he said.

Miller said his office is partnering with Iowa State University agriculture economist John Crespi, director of ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. Crespi has agreed to prepare an economic summary of fertilizer markets for Miller's office.

In addition, Miller sent letters to the CEOs of the major fertilizer manufacturers. This includes CF Industries, Koch Industries, Mosaic, Nutrien and OCI N.V., the owner of the Iowa Fertilizer Company located in Weaver, Iowa.

The letters asked the manufacturers to provide their reasons for the large fertilizer price increases.

"We would like to know their side of the story," Miller said.

Miller noted a recent Texas A&M study showed increases in crop returns for farmers tend to coincide with increases in fertilizer prices since 1970 (….) The data suggests manufacturers are taking advantage of higher farm incomes, but his office needs more information, he said.

Miller said this is not an antitrust investigation but an initial look into what is happening with fertilizer prices. His office will look at the underlying causes and whether the increases can be explained by supply and demand or perhaps price manipulation.

He hopes to have some sort of update in a few months regarding what his office finds, he said.

When asked by DTN why his office is looking into this situation while lack of price competition exists in other aspects of agriculture, Miller said he hopes to learn something about this situation that could possibly be applied to other ag market competition issues.

"Sometimes we have mature competition where there is just too little competition," he said. "I think we are all paying the price with a lack of competition in agriculture as well other industries."

The law will have to examine mergers more closely and perhaps move to be more aggressive in stopping mergers that eliminate true price competition, Miller said.

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Russ Quinn