The spring planting season is fast approaching and never before have farmers in the region been in such dire straits.
The recent conflict in Ukraine combined with inflation saw the price of oil skyrocket to $130 a barrel on March 6 before falling back to $99 on March 14. The price of crude has hovered around $100 a barrel ever since.
But falling crude prices in world markets have yet to see a similar drop at the pump, where diesel fuel can cost upwards of $5.30 a gallon. If these diesel prices remain high, farmers in the region will be severely hampered when it comes to planting. Preparing a field for crops often involves farmers covering the same field 3-5 times with various fertilizer spreaders, plows and discs before seed can even be introduced.
Not to be overtaken by oil, the price of artificial fertilizers has risen again.
The price of a fifty-pound bag of 46-0-0, a fertilizer popular among farmers for its nitrogen concentration, has nearly doubled in recent years to more than $26 per fifty-pound bag at Growmark in Towanda.
Similar prices can be found at Rockwell’s in Canton, where the price of similar fertilizer is nearly $1,000 per ton.
Cereal cash crops like maize and wheat have seen their future markets disrupted by the conflict in Ukraine, Europe’s largest grain producer. Crops are also those grown in our area that require the right amount of nitrogen in the soil for their growth.
If prices remain close to current levels, some farmers will have to choose between bearing the cost of fertilizer in the hope of a sufficient yield to offset it, or risking lower harvests.
Rising costs were noticed nationwide and sparked a federal response of up to $250 million in USDA grants to “support the production of independent, innovative and sustainable American fertilizers for farmers.” Americans”. Details on the application process are expected this summer and the prizes should be awarded by the end of the year, but that won’t help farmers this year.
Asked how farmers can combat rising prices, Penn State Extension agronomist Mason Tate said the best way to not overpay for fertilizer is to make sure it’s not too much. applied.
“There’s no bad time to test soil,” Tate explained, “it’s important growers know what their soil needs so they don’t throw fertilizer in the dark.”
Testing the soil of a field can be an inexpensive way to determine the nutritional needs of that soil and what fertilizer they will need to apply for good crop growth.
With the price of concentrated nitrogen fertilizers so high, planting crops that are not dependent on soil nitrogen can be a solution. Legumes such as soybeans and alfalfa are nitrogen-fixing crops that extract nitrogen from the air and attach it to soil particles to be used by other crops such as corn.
“We’ve seen some farmers in Pennsylvania looking to plant more soybeans this year,” Tate said. “The future soybean market looks solid so far.”
Farmers also need to be aware of the nutrient impact of organic fertilizers like manure when applied to a field. A ton of dairy cow manure typically contains an average of ten pounds of nitrogen, which means that ten pounds less of urea fertilizer will need to be purchased from a dealer.
Chemical pesticides have also seen their price rise, and Tate warns farmers to make sure they really need to apply chemical insecticides before buying.
“I always tell farmers to watch their fields. I know last year we had a problem in that area with army worms. Farmers need to examine these insect populations and ensure that they are not beneficial insects and that there are enough of them to harm crop growth.
Looking ahead, Tate noted the benefits of cover crops during the winter to hold the soil in place. Grain rye is a common cover crop in this area, and Tate has noticed some farmers planting black oats. One advantage of black oats, he said, is that it establishes well in the fall, but the harsh winters in our area put a stop to stand, so in the spring there is no new growth that must be treated with chemical herbicides before planting.
Like all agricultural endeavors, decisions about buying fertilizer and planting grain will come down to optimism, and Tate agrees with the idea.
“There is a profit to be made, even if commodity prices go down a bit, it all depends on whether you are willing to take the risk. There are a lot of unknowns, what farmers in our area really need right now is a few weeks of nice dry weather to get out the door on a high note.