Farmers in northwest Iowa and across the state could be in for a surprise when they buy their fertilizer for their crops this spring, as nitrogen prices have risen up to $300 a ton in some areas, a 35-percent increase from last fall.
The rising prices reflect a sharp increase in the cost of natural gas, a major component of nitrogen fertilizer. Natural gas accounts for 80 to 85 percent of the cost of producing nitrogen-based fertilizer, and it has been rising due to several factors, including political instability around the world and the prospect of rising grain prices in North and South America.
John Sawyer, a nitrogen management specialist for Iowa State University Extension, said the recent rise in fertilizer prices has not been surprising, but has had an impact on Iowa, as the state's main crop is corn, which uses more nitrogen than any other field crop.
He said the amount of nitrogen needed in order to ensure good yields for corn can vary, but generally runs anywhere from 100 to 150 pounds.
"Certainly this is one of those time where you can look at that range and decide to go to the lower side of that range," Sawyer said. "You still need to have a satisfactory amount of nitrogen, of course, but a small reduction in the amount can be justified."
Sam Ferguson, a customer agronomist for Dow AgroSciences, agreed with Sawyer. He said that in rain-fed corn and soybean rotations, corn yields can be optimized with only 125 pounds of nitrogen, but said growers are usually reluctant to supply a minimal amount of nitrogen because of the fear of possible losses during the season that could affect yield sizes in the fall.
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