OMAHA (DTN) -- With retail fertilizer prices still significantly higher than a year ago, farmers will be spending more to buy nutrients for the 2023 crop. University of Minnesota Extension nutrient specialists remind producers that various practices, from applying fertilizers in the spring to using efficiency products, to having an open line of communication with retailers, will be important as we move into the fall fertilizer application season.
In a nutrient management podcast titled "Annual Fall Fertilizer Outlook", a panel of extension specialists discussed some important issues (https://nutrientmanagement.transistor.fm/…). The nearly 45-minute podcast covered a wide range of fertilizer-related topics.
HIGH FERTILIZER PRICES
Farmers will see significantly higher fertilizer prices, especially if they pre-paid for nutrients last summer. Jeff Vetch, a nutrient management researcher at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, said farmers are going to see prices roughly 40% to 45% higher than last year.
These prices are going to really hit them hard, he said.
Some Minnesota farmers also have to change their form of fertilizer, according to Brad Carlson, extension educator from the Mankato Regional Office. Last fall, because of concern about supply, some farmers in southern Minnesota applied anhydrous for the first time.
Management-wise the situation worked out, but the change in nitrogen form was concerning for some southern Minnesota farmers, he said.
"Maybe be starting to have conversations with those retailers about what this is going to look like," Carlson said. "Because I know one of the things that really changed a lot was that we'd been seeing this increasing trend for split application and some side-dress."
BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
Fabian Fernandez, University of Minnesota Extension nutrient management specialist based in St. Paul, said an important thing to remember this fall is to perform the best management practice when applying fertilizer. While you can't control fertilizer prices, you can control when you apply nutrients, he said.
One example would be not applying urea in the fall, which was a common practice in the state at one time. Much research has been done and it has been determined too much nitrogen is lost with fall application, so University of Minnesota Extension does not recommend this practice anymore, he said.
"When we are looking at high prices, of course we need to be looking at what is the most efficient way to apply fertilizers," Fernandez said. "And so, sticking to the best management practices is a key component."
POSITIVE RETURNS WITH FERTILIZER
Despite higher fertilizer prices, sometimes it will still be beneficial to apply fertilizer.
Dan Kaiser, University of Minnesota Extension nutrient management specialist, said an example of this would be applying phosphorus if the soil test shows levels are low. Even with MAP and DAP prices around $1,000/ton, farmers can still get a positive return on investment.
If a soil test shows low levels of P in the soil, investing in the nutrient can benefit crop yields. If the soil test is in the medium to high levels, producers can really look at cutting back in this area, he said.
"You don't really need that full rate if you're not putting that 80 pounds removal on for your 250 bushel per acre corn crop, you likely aren't going to see any effect for the 2023 crop," Kaiser said. "And I know some people may want to argue with that, but if you start looking at our data more and more, even a cut rate would slow your decline."
Kaiser said the same cutting back with potash fertilizer could also be accomplished. If your fields are high in P and K and you look at the application process as a bank account with both deposits and withdrawals, now might be a good time to make a nutrient "withdrawal" with high fertilizer prices, he said.
Fernandez said the spring, especially for nitrogen, is probably the best time for application. There is some flexibility there with being to apply before planting or after in a side-dressing application, he said.
Farmers should look at the nitrogen rate calculator, which considers the price of both corn and nitrogen, and this will allow them to determine where the economic optimum is. This will allow you to have the best return on your nitrogen investment, he said.
Lindsay Pease, a nutrient and water management specialist based out of the Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston, said many Minnesota crops were planted last spring due to too much moisture and this is going to give producers less time this fall to apply fertilizer. This might be extra motivation to wait and apply fertilizer in the spring, she said.
"I think a lot of guys in the northwest (Minnesota) it's always scary to do that, especially when we have wet springs and a lot of flooding," Pease said. "But this might be a good year to maybe try this."
FERTILIZER EFFICIENCY PRODUCTS
With fertilizer prices high, more products claim to improve fertilizer efficiency. While best management practices should be followed, some of these products in certain situations can help.
Nitrification inhibitors are one such example. Fernandez said if you apply them at the wrong time, for instance too early, they will break down faster and not protect your investment.
Fernandez said applying anhydrous in the fall once the temperatures are below 50 degrees would be one time an inhibitor would have the most potential to help. Another time would be applying an inhibitor in the spring with anhydrous, especially if it is early in the spring.
There are many other products, such as biologicals, out there but the research consistently shows that they have very little potential to provide a consistent benefit, he said.
"My suggestion would be to stick to what you know works and that has worked in the past and go with that," Fernandez said.
"DTN Retail Fertilizer Trends: Prices for Half of Fertilizers Considerably Lower" -- https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"DTN Fertilizer Outlook: Nitrogen Fertilizers Prices Rise from Increased European Natural Gas Prices" -- https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com
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