6 Ideas to Lower Your 2022 Fertilizer Bill

This is the first of a two-part series looking at how farmers can manage predicted increased production costs for 2022.

2021 has been a record-breaking profitable year for many farmers. But these record profits have come with a daunting problem on the horizon — skyrocketing fertilizing costs.

The same factors that have led to U.S. farmers seeing a record 20% increase in net farm income — high corn and soy prices, excellent yields and strong demand for agricultural commodities — are responsible for the potential record production cost increases for next year.

Farm economists at the University of Illinois predict 2022 will be the highest production cost year in the last two decades, driven largely by fertilizer costs that have more than doubled over the previous twelve months.

Accounting for the increased price of production means farmers are asking themselves some hard questions around where to find the largest return on investment for this year’s profits and what production costs can be trimmed without risking yield profitability.

Soil Tests are Step One to Lowering Production Costs

Soil tests are the first step to lowering fertilizer costs, said Bob Gunzenhauser, Granular Agronomy Science Manager. 

Ideally, farmers have a history of soil tests to refer to, but even if they don’t or if they weren’t planning to sample this year, Gunzenhauser strongly encourages farmers to pull new soil samples. While soil sampling is an additional cost, the cost-benefit ratio of better information when fertilizer costs are high (and possibly going higher) is often worth the investment.

For a thorough breakdown of soil-testing best practices, including choosing a lab and interpreting test results, see Pioneer’s Soil Sampling and Test Interpretation Report.

“Based on my current co-op prices, the basic fertility program for 2022-planted corn will run about $210 an acre. Last year’s corn recommendation cost between $80 to $90 an acre. So, more than double.” Gunzenhauser says. “What are the ramifications of that? How can we manage it?”

In Gunzenhauser’s county, farmers are already strategizing how they can lower their nitrogen bill.

Some farmers are debating whether to buy now and avoid even potentially higher fertilizer prices, while others are gambling that prices will come down in the spring. Alternate sources of fertilizer like hog manure or even skipping the corn planting in favor of a less input intense soy crop are also being considered.

However, Gunzenhauser reminds farmers that they have so many more options when they combine soil tests with analytical nitrogen modeling tools.

Granular’s Nitrogen Monitoring and Management add-on tool, offered as an add-on through Granular’s agronomy services, provides customized nitrogen prescriptions and daily, decision-level nitrogen monitoring.

“What we can do is model potential outcomes. We can show the general trends of where things are going to go,” Gunzenhauser said. “We can then show that if you move from this practice to that practice, here is where you’ll have more nitrogen in the soil; fewer losses and more of it’s going to be available to your plants. So, let’s cover the bases that way.”

6 Tips to Lower Your 2022 Fertilizer Bill

1 Take a Maintenance Year

Consider a ‘maintain’ strategy instead of a ‘build’ mode. Using current soil tests and nitrogen modeling, calculate the least amount of fertilizer needed to maintain soil fertility levels for next year rather than building them up.

2 Don’t Apply Where It’s Not Needed

Take into consideration those areas where soil fertility is already higher, as revealed by soil tests. Gunzenhauser recommends always pulling a soil sample near the historic farmstead, which typically has higher soil fertility rates. Can fertilizer applications be trimmed back in those fields without detrimentally affecting yield? By how much?

Learn how Granular Agronomy +N services have already helped farmers reduce their nitrogen by 9 lb/A, increased yield by 6 bu/A and boosted profits by $27/acre. 

3 Take an In-Season Application Approach

Rather than apply all your nitrogen at once, consider feathering out multiple, smaller applications through the season. Time them in response to weather events. Nitrogen modeling software can predict the chances of losses through leaching or denitrification, take into account weather events like unusual rainfall and show when and how much nitrogen may still be needed to meet yield goals.

Granular Certified Service Agents (CSAs) can help farmers know when and where they need more nitrogen-based on farm-specific weather events

4 Consider When and Where to Use Nitrogen Stabilizers

When and where can nitrogen stabilizers provide the best value? Stabilizers have the greatest benefit when soils are warm and moist enough to convert the ammonium form of nitrogen to nitrate, but when there isn’t yet sufficient root growth to capture the nitrate that may move downwards or be lost to denitrification – stabilizers keep the N as ammonium longer.  Consider how to maximize nitrogen stabilizers especially when combined with other practice changes — such as multiple applications rather than a single one.

5 Don’t Apply in the Fall

Wait for a spring application. Many farmers traditionally spread nitrogen in the fall, but that can lead to significant nitrogen loss especially if the winter ends up being wetter than usual. Instead, wait until a few weeks before planting to apply close to when the crop will need it. Farmers that spread in the spring often find they need to use less nitrogen because they aren’t compensating for winter losses.

6 Don’t Sacrifice Macros for the Micros

Consider the cost-benefit ratio of micro-fertilizer packages in the overall context of your entire fertilizer bill and soil fertility rates. Micros can take yields over the top but crops still need their primary fertilizer needs taken care of first.

Invest in Knowledge

Knowledge is the best investment farmers can make when looking ahead to challenging production years.

“Farmers are always talking about the physical things when it comes to managing costs. Fertilizer, crop protection, machinery. But when it comes to controlling input costs, what they need is knowledge. Good advice. More wisdom. And better insight into their options,” Gunzenhauser said. “Farmers are going to have to make better decisions this next year.”

The team at Granular can help you keep your 2022 fertilizer costs in check. 

Find Your Local Granular Agronomy Certifed Sales Agent

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