Fertilizer purchases are tough decisions

By Kevin Hursh

With an early harvest in most regions, there’s lots of time for soil testing to guide fertilizer application decisions for the next growing season. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell you the best time to buy next year’s fertilizer and the best time for nitrogen may have been back in July.

It’s tough to get current information on retail fertilizer prices in Western Canada. About the best available is Alberta Agriculture’s farm input price survey. Unfortunately, it’s published monthly so there’s quite a lag in the information. The latest posting shows urea averaging $700 a tonne in July.

It’s higher than that now. I just bought some urea (46-0-0) for a price approaching $800 a tonne. Anhydrous ammonia and liquid nitrogen don’t always follow urea exactly, but all the nitrogen sources typically trend in the same direction.

Fertilizer market analysis has proven even less reliable that grain market prognostication, often passing for hype rather than analysis. Urea last year peaked at about $1,150 a tonne in November and then declined steadily all the way to seeding and beyond. Buying early was costly.

Usually, buying in the fall or winter is a good management decision with nitrogen prices typically increasing as seeding approaches. Last year was one of the exceptions.

Fertilizer prices have seen tremendous volatility in recent years. According to Alberta Agriculture’s surveys, urea was as low as $550 in October of 2020 and hit a peak of $1,350 in April of 2022.

So, will the nearly $800 a tonne I just paid for some urea look good or bad by the time seeding rolls around? Place your bets.

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