The past several weeks, agricultural news sources have been highlighting the rapid increase in fertilizer prices. The first proposed cause of this spike is due to the increase in corn prices, which in turn, increases the demand for fertilizer. Beware, we are all familiar with the market ups and downs. If the corn market is flooded at the end of 2021 and there is still limited demand for ethanol production due to COVID-19, corn prices will plummet, and grain farmers will be stuck with lower-priced corn.
The second reason noted for increased fertilizer prices was the recent cold snap across the nation, most notably in Texas. The natural gas supply that is normally being funneled to chemical fertilizer plants was instead being used to heat homes, thus reducing the available supply of fertilizer compared to other years at this time.
On February 19th, an article published in AgFax noted the following fertilizers and their increase in price: the average price for DAP was up $102/T from January to $588/T, MAP was up $91/T to $642/T, and Urea was up $80/T to $453/T. Those were increases of about 20% in a single month. Prices are expected to continue rising or at least stay high throughout the planting season.
It feels like the farming business is sometimes a long list of “the bad news.” Fortunately, farmers are quite resourceful - this is not simply our ability to temporarily fix nearly anything with twine string and, on occasion, supplemental duct tape.
I have written before on the topic of manure’s benefits as a fertilizer and calculating that value when it is applied to fields in order to reduce purchased chemical fertilizers. More information on that is available on our website, wayne.osu.edu, or by calling our office.
A few comments to set the stage. Feed prices are high, that means the value of manure is higher simply because the inputs for our livestock which produce it are higher. Next, chemical fertilizer prices are high, so using manure wisely to mitigate purchased fertilizer has higher benefits.
The following practices reduce the value of manure: letting stockpiled manure sit outside, uncovered, where rain can carry nitrogen and phosphorus away as leachate, and deposited likely straight into waterways. Note, this practice may garner attention from government agencies and potentially lead to fines. Applying manure to the surface of a field in far advance of planting, allows large portions of the nitrogen to enter the atmosphere, so less for crop uptake. Phosphorus is also easily carried away through field runoff when not incorporated.
Consider increasing the value of manure by improving storage methods and incorporating applied manure within 24 hours of application when possible. It will still have to be hauled regardless of its value and hauling additional water is expensive. A study by the University of Minnesota showed that 40% of manure nitrogen is lost after sitting on the field surface for more than 4 days. Other studies have shown that simply disking over surface applications is enough incorporation to reduce nitrogen loss. Direct incorporation of liquid manures avoids the most losses.
Obviously, the above strategies are not always feasible or easy as weather and soil moisture dictate much of what we can do in our fields, and sometimes, the manure storage is at its limit and it simply must go onto the field. All I can say is do your best to plan ahead.
Let’s talk dollars and cents. Using the fertilizer costs above as well as some figures I pulled from USDA on ammonium-nitrogen compared to urea-nitrogen, the cost of nitrogen in MAP (11-52-0) is $0.64/lb. and the cost of phosphorus is $0.48/lb. Potassium prices are not getting as much attention, we will figure $0.31/lb. for potash. (If you have more local or current numbers plug them into the following examples).
Next, having a manure analysis is important. Manure nutrient levels vary widely among livestock species, time of year, and management practices. However, for the sake of this article, here are some examples. With our nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium prices per pound above, a liquid swine manure analysis showing 34 lbs. N, 23 lbs. P, and 26 lbs. K in 1,000gals. is worth over $40/1,000gals. A liquid dairy manure may be worth about half of that. Solid cattle manure with values of 11 lbs. N, 8 lbs. P, and 13 lbs. K per Ton is worth roughly $15/Ton. Poultry manure may easily be worth $50/Ton (30 lbs. N, 41 lbs. P, 35 lbs. K).
Treat your manure like purchased fertilizer.
Matthew Nussbaum is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information, visit cfaesdiversity.osu.edu.