Take these steps to prepare for possible fertilizer shortages

• By Trent Roberts •

fertilizer spreading
Start talking with your ferilizer dealer NOW, the more they’ll be prepared — photo courtesy University of Arkansas

With current Mississippi River levels above flood stage along all of Arkansas’ eastern border, there are increasing concerns that limited barge traffic combined with reduced access to Arkansas ports may tighten fertilizer stocks during periods of high use.

Current river depth at Memphis is at 30 feet and falling: however, there is still a significant amount of snow melt that has yet to occur in the North Central Plains and who knows what Mother Nature intends to do.

Three main factors will affect fertilizer availability and cost this coming growing season for Arkansas Farmers:

1) Barge traffic is currently limited to daytime navigation, and if flooding did happen to continue/increase, it may be halted altogether.

2) Many ports are still not accessible for off-loading even after river levels drop below flood stage.

3) Increasing reliance on ground transportation will add some cost to fertilizer ($10-15 per ton). There are some strains on the availability of phosphorus and potassium right now. As we move forward, the real concern is going to be urea for preflood-N in rice and some sidedress in corn and cotton.

The real issue here is the unknown. We cannot predict what the weather will do and how that may or may not impact transportation on the Mississippi River.

Steps to take

There are some steps that you can take to better prepare for limited fertilizer supply during peak demand.

1) Start talking with your fertilizer distributor/supplier NOW. The more dialogue you have with your fertilizer supplier now, the more time they will have to prepare and take action to have on hand what they need for their coverage area.

2) Be strategic in how you approach the potential for limited fertilizer availability. Make sure you understand nutrient use efficiency/timing and how different crops are affected. For instance, when the time comes to fertilize and flood rice, we know that the most efficient approach is to apply an optimum preflood nitrogen rate to a dry soil surface and flood in a timely manner.

However, rice has the largest acreage requiring nitrogen fertilization, and it always seems that everyone wants to fertilize, spray and flood at the same time. This is the time when supplies could get tight.

I also think that corn is more forgiving than rice when it comes to timing of nitrogen application.

Having a good handle on when your crops are going to fall into those critical windows for nitrogen application and planning ahead will be very important as we move through the season.

Dr. Trent Roberts is an associate professor, Crop, Soil & Environmental Sciences, at the University of Arkansas. He may be reached at tlrobert@uark.edu

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