Results from a mid-February e-mail survey of no-tillers indicate there’s still a sizeable degree of uncertainty about the late-winter and early spring fertilizer situation. The results shown here are based on responses from 135 no-tillers with an average of 1,491 acres. 

This material was collected for a March presentation on the fertilizer industry to Wall Street investment fund mangers. Several Corn Belt no-tillers and fertilizer manufacturers updated these folks during a daylong program in New York City.

Economic Concerns

With wild swings in fertilizer prices over the past year and unfavorable weather conditions that kept some growers from applying the usual amount of fertilizer last fall, growers were asked how these concerns would influence fertilizer usage with no-tilled corn this spring. Some 40% expect to reduce fertilizer rates, while the remaining 60% will apply the same rates as in 2008.

Only 20% of the growers are willing to sacrifice no-till corn yields to reduce fertilizer costs. While 47% of the producers had already booked most of their fertilizer by mid-February, 55% were still waiting for fertilizer prices to drop. Nearly two-thirds of the growers who had not yet booked all of their fertilizer still had over 70% unbooked.

Growers were also asked if they would be applying larger amounts of fertilizer than usual this spring compared to normal years. Only 12% expect to apply more fertilizer than normal, while 16% will apply less fertilizer. Some 72% don’t expect any change in their total fertilizer needs.

Growers were also asked how much more they expect to pay for nitrogen used this spring compared with a year earlier. The average was an extra $72.92 per ton. 

Some 59% of growers felt area farmers would not have difficulty finding fertilizer this spring. Only 2% felt area growers would not be able to buy needed fertilizer, while 39% were not sure.

Cutting Back

The growers were also asked if they will reduce nutrient levels with no-tilled corn. Some 24% expect to reduce nitrogen rates, 38% intend to decrease applied phosphorus and 33% will apply less potassium. 

Only 7% of the growers intend to apply more fertilizer this spring than usual. Among those growers, 63% will apply more fertilizer because they’re waiting for more favorable prices. Only 13% say it’s due to unfavorable weather last fall. Some 75% say they’re making a change in fertilizer practices to become more efficient.

The growers also felt last-minute shifts in cropping decisions are another reason for waiting until spring to apply fertilizer in some fields. Surveys conducted by other groups earlier this year indicate that as many as one-third of growers as of late January still hadn’t made up their minds regarding actual 2009 cropping plans.