Apply an expensive fertilizer in the spring? Not the worst decision

If you waited until this spring to apply anhydrous ammonia, it might not have been a bad financial decision for corn management.

High fertilizer prices were a hot topic at the University of Missouri Crop Management Conference. “Farmers made a lot of money in 2021,” said Ray Massey, MU Extension economist. “They want to make sure they’re making a lot of money in 2022, and they’re ready to fertilize for that.”

He offered an overview of some crop management scenarios for farmers facing soaring fertilizer prices.

Know N return

When it comes to nitrogen, Massey says, the first nitrogen applied to a field is worth more than the last.

“We normally think of nitrogen as having what’s called a quadratic plateau, which means when you first put nitrogen in it gives you a huge bump,” he explains. “And then later that gives you less bump, then less bump until she finally settles.”

So, farmers have to decide how many bushels of corn they have to pay for the last 10 pounds of nitrogen to keep their farm economy functioning. Quick math explains it.

According to the data, Massey says there comes a time when farmers don’t realize the extra bushels and simply waste money on nitrogen application. Then it’s time to rethink the fertilizer strategy.

There is an economic signal, in Massey’s mind, where prices are getting too expensive, and farmers should cut back on planting acres of corn or apply less nitrogen.

Work applied in spring

Faced with rising nitrogen prices, some farmers are wondering if the supply will even be available, or even more if it will be available when needed. Then they question the timing of the application. Should it be applied anhydrous in the fall or spring, or a fall and relief treatment in the spring due to nitrogen loss? These are all valid questions when weighing fertilizer options, Massey says.

So he looked at when to apply the nitrogen as well as the price to see how much it would cost to delay the application of anhydrous ammonia, or if farmers applied the application in the fall and then needed more. ‘rescue treatment. To account for any type of denitrification, he applied higher rates in the fall compared to the spring.

What Massey found was that by fertilizing in the fall or just before planting, there was no price difference per acre, even though anhydrous increased by $ 400 per tonne.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Comparative table of fertilizer management options

He notes that farmers who have waited to apply fertilizer this spring, even though anhydrous hits $ 1,600 per tonne, will be at breakeven prices. However, if corn growers who applied in the fall have lost nitrogen in the winter months, there will be a cost to make up for it this spring.

While Massey says he’s not sure how high the prices are, this type of analysis provides a framework for farmers who make decisions on timing of application based on cost and nitrogen loss. .

In all of Ray Massey’s years as the University of Missouri Extension Economist, he was never called upon by the Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources regarding his production budgets. farming online, so far.

Massey, who draws up budgets to help Missouri farmers assess the costs and expected returns of crop and livestock businesses, says soaring fertilizer costs have created problems for this year’s budgets and brought about farmers and others in the agricultural industry to ask questions.

The MU Extension economist creates the budgets in October. At that time, he estimated at $ 800 per tonne for anhydrous. The price quickly exceeded those estimates and by the end of November, when many farmers and lenders gathered budgets, it hit over $ 1,300 per tonne. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an increase in nitrogen,” Massey says. “It grew very quickly. “

Budgets must therefore be adjusted, even university budgets. The University of Missouri offers an overview of the 2022 cost estimates for each growing or ranching business. It also has a free downloadable budget for farmers to run management scenarios with university costs or to enter their own actual costs. It can be found by scrolling down the left side of the page.