Phosphate shortages felt in Alberta

CNS Canada — Logistics problems, supply shortages and other variables affecting the fertilizer industry seem to have impacted the number of Alberta acres that got phosphate applications.

“I would suspect it’s somewhere around 20 per cent, maybe, that didn’t get phosphate fertilizer,” said Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

The railcar backlog plaguing Western Canada for the past several months was likely a big reason behind the lack of available phosphates on hand, he said, but added there also seems to be a general reluctance by fertilizer dealers to speculate on long-term prices and/or bring in extra supplies.

Seeding started earlier in Alberta than in Saskatchewan or Manitoba this year, which is one of the reasons why it may have borne the brunt of the shortage.

“If everyone had been seeding during the first two weeks of May that would have been a problem,” said Doug Chorney, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers. At the same time, he said, he knows late springs are never really considered a “blessing” in agriculture.

Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, agreed; as far as he knows, there were just a few localized shortages of phosphates for growers in Saskatchewan.

Producers in that province had been told to expect a serious shortage of phosphates, he said, but shortly before seeding started, a big change took place.

“They (the dealers) said ‘I don’t know what happened, the gates have opened and the fertilizer came and I can sell you any amount of fertilizer you want at $800 a tonne.'”

Hall noted this was a big adjustment from pre-bought supplies, which checked in around $500 a tonne.

Prices seem to have jumped significantly for fertilizer right across the board.

“Prices were 35 per cent higher than in December when I booked my fertilizer,” said Chorney, adding he paid $300 a tonne for liquid nitrogen last fall. This spring, that same quantity is going for $450.

Anyone coming to pick up fertilizer unpriced faced significantly higher costs, he said. Anhydrous ammonia was also affected; supplies that cost $785 a tonne at Christmas are now over $1,000, according to Chorney.

Despite all this, he said, he didn’t hear of a farmer sent home without any fertilizer.

According to Jacobson, though, the lack of fertilizer treatments on Alberta fields doesn’t automatically mean lower yields will be realized. Much will depend on weather and all the variables associated with any regular growing year.

He doubted many growers will try to fertilize crops later in the year, either, as phosphate doesn’t move much in the soil.

However, he added, the ground will need some phosphate before the next crops are seeded in 2015. He estimated most farmers will use 20 to 25 pounds per acre of actual phosphate in the fields and those amounts should be replaced each year.

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.



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