Courtesy of the latest Tillage Edge podcast, Teagasc’s head of crops knowledge transfer department, Michael Hennessy, assesses the possible impact of fast-increasing fertiliser prices on crop-production costs.

He said:

“It’s great to see grain prices climb to heights not seen in a long time; however, fuel prices, especially those for gas, have rocketed.

“Closing or scaling back fertiliser plants is now common across Europe, and physical supply issues continue to be a factor.

“Farmers are watching this closely and will be considering what crops to grow in 2022. The profitability of high nitrogen-requiring crops may come into question.

“However, the right planning decisions made at this time of the year may be the best chance to arrive at the most profitable outcome during the year ahead.”

Hennessy was joined on the podcast by Teagasc crops’ specialist, Shay Phelan who commented that a range of issues – not just gas prices and supply – are currently impacting on fertiliser prices.

Fertiliser prices – range of issues

“Potash is a big requirement within our farming systems. However, the EU currently has an embargo in place against Belarus, one of the world’s largest exporters of potash,” he said.

“There are also a range of fertiliser-related issues relating to China.”

Phelan added:

“But the big fear we have at the moment is that of talking ourselves into a crisis. This is a global issue, not just an Irish issue.

“There is a lot of speculation out there at the moment. But one thing that does concern me is the fact that a lot of factories that should be making fertiliser right now are not doing so.

“But there is very little that we, here in Ireland, can do about any of these issues. So we will just have to wait and see how it all plays out in the spring of next year.”

The question was then asked: should farmers be considering a phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) holiday at this stage?

“The first thing that farmers should do is get an up-to-date soil test,” said Phelan.

“This may sound very basic. But unless farmers know the exact P, K and pH levels of their soils right now, it could be a false economy taking a phosphate and potash holiday.”

He added:

“Given the yields that we have had in 2021, there will have been a lot of P and K removed from soils over recent months.

“Straw chopping will return some P and K to soils. And in these cases there may be some scope to reduce phosphate and potash applications to crops in 2022.

“But it’s a bit general to say that farmers can take a P and K holiday for next year. Fertiliser requirements will always be field and crop specific.”

He concluded:

“So it’s not just the prices of fertiliser that farmers muist take account of: there is a range of other factors to be considered.”