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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Fertiliser prices and supply: Causes and what you can do

The Fertilizer Association of Ireland has issued a statement to highlight some factors impacting high fertiliser prices and supply in the Irish market.

The body said that whilst “we are price takers” and have “little control” over markets, farmers have “full control” over factors inside the farm gate.

These include:

  • Soil testing;
  • Soil pH;
  • Organic manures;
  • Balancing nutrients.

“By being cognisant of these factors, we will ensure that any money spent on fertiliser will give the farmer the best return on investment,” a spokesperson said.

High fertiliser prices

On February 22nd, 2021, Trading View quoted gas at $5.55 per MMBtu. On December 6th, 2021, it was five times higher at $29.62 per MMBtu.

Fertiliser production is hugely reliant on natural gas and accounts for approximately 80% of the cost of ammonia. This is a key ingredient for calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and urea fertilisers.

Europe, which produces over 70% of the 15.6 million tonnes of CAN produced globally,, is heavily reliant on natural gas imports.

According to the association, this has driven the price of CAN to the highs we have seen in recent months.

N-P-K compound fertiliser prices are also at unprecedented levels on the back of strong Muriate of potash (MOP) prices and reduced supply of di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) and mono-ammonium phosphate (MAP).

High MOP prices have partly been driven by political issues in Belarus. According to the association, this has resulted in some countries imposing sanctions against the import of potash from that country. Belarus accounts for 20% of the global 70.6 million tonnes of potash production.

Exports of urea, DAP and MAP from China ceased on October 15th, in an effort by that country to protect supplies for their own domestic market.

With gas prices and political issues outside our control, it is important to look at the elements we can control for the coming fertiliser usage season. For example:

  • Soil sampling;
  • Apply lime where required;
  • Targeting slurry and organic manure use;
  • Including Sulphur;
  • Use the FAI P&K Calculator.
Soil sampling

During December and January, it is advisable to soil sample your farm to find out what nutrients your land needs.

Soil tests will identify the soil pH, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) levels in each field.

Create a nutrient management plan based on your soil results to guide organic manure applications and the fertiliser needs for the year ahead.

Lime

Apply lime were required according to the rates the soil test recommends.

Where soils are acidic (pH 5.5), it can result in a loss of up to 3 tonnes of DM per hectare or €543 in monetary terms (€181 per tonne DM X 3 = €543) on grassland farms due to only 77% of the nitrogen being utilised along with 48% of phosphorous and 77% of potash.

Targeting slurry and organic manure use

You can increase the efficiency of slurry application by ≥50% using a trailing shoe instead of a splash plate.

1,000 gallons of cattle slurry provides 9 units of N/acre versus 6 units of N/acre when using the traditional splash plate. Cool, damp conditions are best for applying slurry.

Applying slurry in spring compared to summer increases the nitrogen availability by an additional 50%.

The P & K values of cattle slurry are similar regardless of the application method and account on average for 5 units of P and 32 units of K in cattle slurry.

To maximise these nutrients, slurry and other organic manure applications should be targeted towards fields with lower soil P and K levels and high P & K requirements (silage fields) ( Index 1 & 2).

Including sulphur

You can achieve a 10 to 30% yield increase when using a nitrogen plus sulphur fertiliser compared to a nitrogen-only fertiliser that has the same N content. This equates to over 500kg DM/ha on a first cut silage crop.

For grazed swards, apply 20 kg/ha or 16 units/acre of sulphur per year on a little and often basis starting in early spring. Apply 20 kg/ha or 16 units/acre of sulphur per cut for silage swards.

Use the FAI P & K calculator

Furthermore, the FAI has developed a P&K calculator in conjunction with Teagasc and K&S UK & Eire Ltd.

The calculator estimates P and K fertiliser requirements for grassland and crops. The calculator estimates chemical fertiliser P and K requirements by inputting details of crop yield, grassland stocking rate, concentrate feed usage, soil test results, and slurry application.

You can download the calculator as an app or use it online by visiting this website.

Concluding, the FAI spokesperson said:

“It is difficult to say how long these high energy prices and sanctions on Belarus will last. Therefore, it is important to assess all the elements within our control.”

“By doing this, we increase our nutrient use efficiency, which is good for both our pocket and the environment,” the spokesperson concluded.

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