High cost and shortage of fertilizer to modify 2022 seedlings

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By Jared Strong

Farmers in the United States are likely to plant less corn and use less nitrogen fertilizer in their fields for next year’s growing season due to sky-high fertilizer prices and shortages. This trend will be less pronounced in Iowa, where fertile soils justify the extra costs.

“We have a very natural advantage for producing corn,” said Sam Funk, senior economist for the Iowa Farm Bureau. “These nitrogen fertilizers are worth more on highly productive soil in Iowa than in other states.”

A confluence of factors has led agricultural fertilizers to their highest prices in two decades, according to Green Markets, which tracks these price trends.

Global shortages of natural gas, limited fertilizer supplies and other factors had already pushed those prices up this year when Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana in August. The storm halted fertilizer production in storm-affected areas and stalled shipping barges on the Mississippi River.

“You have a lot of different factors that come into play at a certain point in time,” Funk said.

He said farmers were paying up to three times the price for fertilizer they were paying a year ago, and some say it’s worse:

“Some of our farmers who have been able to secure fertilizer availability for the next planting season have reported quoted prices up to six times higher than 2021 prices,” said U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra, a Republican from northwest Iowa, during a congressional hearing last week.

Some farmers may wait to fertilize

So what will farmers do? Some are waiting to fertilize their fields until spring, and some are considering alternatives to corn, Chat Hart, an economics professor at Iowa State University, said Friday on “Iowa Press,” which airs on Iowa PBS.

An alternative is soy, which produces its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria. Bradyrhizobium japonicum can infect the roots of soybeans and, in exchange for plant sugars, the bacteria fix nitrogen.

“Will Iowa Growers Switch More to Soy?” Funk said. “Some, but probably not to a great extent in this state. You have a yield factor that would penalize you for planting soybeans after soybeans.

Corn and soybean yields are improved when planted alternately in fields. Consecutive years of planting soybeans reduce yields, primarily due to increased presence of microscopic roundworms that damage their roots, researchers have found.

Funk said many Iowa farmers will simply be smarter with their fertilizer applications and take an economic hit due to higher costs.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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