Phosphate tough to find on Prairies

CNS Canada — The railway slowdown restricting the flow of grain out of the Prairies is also reported to be hampering imports of phosphate fertilizer from the U.S., leaving farmers who haven’t already ordered supplies out in the cold.

Norm Hall, president of Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS), said railroads have been concentrating on moving product from east to west, not north to south, so the backlog isn’t likely to end soon.

“I know a lot of guys don’t like to borrow money to get out of trouble, but in this case it may be the lesser of two evils,” he said. Producers in his area have also been told by dealers they need to order phosphate as soon as possible to have any chance of getting some.

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said growers in his province experienced better grain movement last fall because Canadian National and Canadian Pacific (CN, CP) railways picked routes on which they could get a quick turnaround, such as Camrose.

However many other areas in the province “haven’t seen a train,” he said.

Some producers were able to get phosphate supplies in last fall, he said, but the situation varies from producer to producer.

Nitrogen supplies are generally not considered to be as big an issue because processing plants already exist in Western Canada. However, Jacobson noted, the price for nitrogen fertilizer at his local dealer has gone up $200 per tonne since last fall.

A lack of storage is also making it tough for producers who have already bought their fertilizer to find a home for it.

“Some people bring in their fertilizer and they don’t have special bins for it, so they store it in an ordinary bin,” said Jacobson. He noted many regular bins are already full so the fertilizer has to stay outside.

Many producers in Saskatchewan haven’t even ordered their supply yet because of the storage issue; “they usually just pick it up as they use it,” said Hall.

Hall and Jacobson said a lot of producers are still waiting to pay off last year’s input loans and are using cash advances to pay the bills in the meantime. The situation makes it tough for some growers to think of even ordering fertilizer until things change.

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

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