Fertilizer industry and farmers disagree on solutions to fertilizer crisis

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By Claire Carlson

The fertilizer industry is scrambling to find solutions to fertilizer prices that have risen since last fall, but some farmer advocacy groups worry the efforts won’t address the scrutiny big fertilizer companies wield. on the market and the effects of synthetic fertilizers. on the environment.

A document released earlier this spring by the Fertilizer Institute, an organization that represents and advocates for the fertilizer industry, highlights several steps for lawmakers and farmers to take to bolster the nation’s fertilizer supply and maximize use. . According to Corey Rosenbusch, president and CEO of the Fertilizer Institute, the goal is to bring these actions to as many policymakers and voters as possible to push for tougher fertilizer legislation.

“Last fall, when we started to see significant changes in the market, farmers were very concerned about agricultural inputs and what that was going to mean for their upcoming planting and harvesting season,” Rosenbusch said. “[The Fertilizer Institute] hit the road and visited many farmers and producer groups to let them know what was happening in the markets and why we saw the prices go up.

These conversations led the organization to put in place the short-term and long-term solutions set out in the policy solutions document.

These solutions include eliminating restrictions on the export of fertilizers in China, dropping vaccination mandates across Canada-U.S. borders for truckers transporting fertilizers, and encouraging growers to adopt the practices 4R Nutrient Stewardship – a framework that helps farmers determine how much and what type of fertilizer to use. use it, as well as the best time to apply it and where on the farm.

According to one farmer advocate, these solutions do not address what he considers to be a major cause of these high prices: price manipulation by the small number of fertilizer companies that control the industry.

“The path [this document] approaches the problem as if there is a long-term failure of supply and demand in fertilizers ignores that the problem we have with fertilizers is as much a problem of concentration and rising prices as a disruption supply,” said Joe Maxwell, president of advocacy group Farm Action.

Four companies control 75% of nitrogen fertilizer production and two companies control the majority of potash production in North America, according to a study by the Bureau of Economics and the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association. Between 1984 and 2008, the number of fertilizer producers fell from 46 companies to 13.

Although the Fertilizer Institute does not acknowledge this issue in its paper, it is addressed by the USDA. On March 17, a USDA notice seeking public input on a document titled “Access to Fertilizers: Competition and Supply Chain Issues” was published in the Federal Register. The deadline for comments was recently extended to July 15.

“The USDA is committed to using all the tools at its disposal to enhance competition and improve the resilience of the fertilizer market,” said Andy Green, senior advisor to the USDA’s Fair and Competitive Markets program, in a statement. USDA press release. “Finding ways to encourage sustainable, independent choices for fertilizer sourcing demonstrates the Biden-Harris administration’s continued investment in American goods and services to rebuild a more resilient, secure, and sustainable economy.”

In mid-March, the USDA announced plans to allocate $250 million in subsidies to farmers to help meet rising fertilizer costs and encourage competition. Two months later, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an additional $250 million for farmers. The comments of the document published in the Federal Register will indicate how these subsidies are used.

“There is certainly room for this money to be spent promoting the idea that our long-term fertilizer solution needs to be tight nutrient cycling on the farm and therefore reduce farmers’ need for fertilizer first. place,” said conservation policy specialist Jesse Womack. with the National Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture. “This means not only creating additional domestic fertilizer production, but also truly reducing farmers’ reliance on fertilizers.”

While synthetic fertilizer use is unlikely to be eliminated entirely, Womack said, reducing the amount used is a way for farmers to be more resilient in the face of high fertilizer prices.

Organizations such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Farm Action are working to create incentives in the 2023 Farm Bill that would encourage the use of agricultural practices such as crop rotation (growing different types of crops at the same site), cover crops that produce nutrients on site, and composting both off-farm and on-farm to improve soil health.

Fertilizer representatives are not so convinced that addiction can be reduced. “Without fertilizer you can wipe out 50% of crop yields and we’ve talked about mass starvation and food security,” said Rosenbusch of the Fertilizer Institute. “Now that [this issue] is front and center, we realize that the foundation of long-term food security is access to fertilizer.

Federal Register Public Comment Portal on Fertilizer Industry Consolidation Opens here. The Fertilizer Institute’s policy solutions paper is available here.

The Daily Yonder provides news, commentary and analysis on and for rural America. You can see daily coverage at dailyyonder.com.

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