Monday, October 25, 2021

How can you deal wisely with rising fertilizer costs?

• By Jarrod Hardke and Trent Roberts •

Urea prices up. Phosphate prices up. Potash prices up. Diesel prices up. Rice prices up.

So there’s at least one highlight in that list. A number of conversations are coming up about how folks are going to deal with their rice fertility program next year – or not deal with it by skipping phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) applications entirely. Not so fast, my friend.

A quick review of input costs from 2020 enterprise budgets using conventional hybrid rice as an example:

rice input cost comparisons

That’s an increase in cost of $91.33. Ouch. But with an increase in rice prices from $5.70/bu to $6/bu that brings it to a difference of only $34.33.

Suddenly that’s not quite the change from year to year it might initially appear. The difference that’s left is similar to the increase in irrigation cost ($30.12) and you’re not going to skip out on irrigating rice.

Projected returns are still going to be less than last year, so input decisions will have to be very tight. There’s also no guarantee where prices will be for 2022. However, completely skipping out on input costs like P and K sets us up to underperform in 2022 which could have far greater hits on our bottom line.

Don’t guess — soil test

Please remember that there are several traditional and new tools at your disposal to help with these decisions! First off, DON’T FORGET TO SOIL TEST. We have some of the most reliable fertilizer recommendations for P and K that you will find in the county.

Understanding how deficient or sufficient your soil is will go a long way in helping you decide where things can be cut and where they can’t.

soil sample tools
Don’t guess, soil test. Pull soil samples so you know exactly what’s in your soil. Then adjust yer fertility program accordingly — photo courtesy University of Arkansas

Secondly, our new Potash Rate Calculator (https://agribusiness.uark.edu/decision-support-software.php) has been developed for precisely this scenario where constantly fluctuating fertilizer prices and rice values make it hard to identify the exact rate needed to maximize your profitability. The last tool is in-season preventative tissue testing, especially for K.

New tissue-K interpretation tool

Our newly developed tissue-K interpretation tool can help you identify potential hidden hunger or diagnose K deficiency in rice from panicle initiation through early boot.

In a prefect scenario, you could take soil samples, input that information along with rice and fertilizer prices to determine your most economical K rate and apply it preplant. Once your rice hits panicle differentiation, you can take a Y-leaf sample to determine if more K is needed to maximize yield and whether or not that makes sense as fertilizer costs and rice prices will almost assuredly be very different in June 2022 than they are now.

Rather than skipping these fertilizer inputs entirely, it is much better to use the tools at your disposal to figure out how much P and K you can stand to put out based on your budget and GET SOMETHING OUT THERE.

If the soil test calls for an 0-40-60 rate (N-P-K) and you can only fit an 0-30-50 into your budget, go with it. Listen to the Texas Tornados: “a little bit is better than nada.”

Dr. Jarrod Hardke is University of Arkansas rice Extension agronomist. He may be reached at jhardke@uark.edu. Dr. Trent Roberts is a University of Arkansas associate professor of soil fertility/soil testing. He may be reached at tlrobert@uark.edu

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