The 2022 growing season could be summed up as variable. Throughout the growing season areas experienced too much rain, too little rain, and both. Leading to wide variety of water stress induced nutrient deficiencies in the crop. Despite the moisture stress the yields we good, and harvest was expedient.
Many producers pulled back on fertilizer application rates in the fall of 2021. That same trend continued into the fall of 2022 as the fertilizer prices, while variable, were showing no significant signs of relief. The question continues to be, “how long can growers go with reduced fertilizer applications?” While all fertilizer decisions are dependent on the parameters of a given situation, those growers that have focused on maintaining soil fertility levels over the past few years have had, and still have a distinct advantage.
Since nitrogen is an annual replenishment to the cropping systems, the focus of this question has been on phosphorus and potassium. It takes considerably more fertilizer to increase or decrease phosphorus soil test levels, then potassium soil test levels. Also, in most situations, crops remove less phosphorus than potassium. It may take several years of significant reductions or omission of phosphorus to start showing up in soil tests, but at some point, it will. Potassium soil test levels can decline quickly, 1 or 2 years of omitting potassium fertilizer can result in decreases in soil test levels. Potassium also impacts a plants ability to handle water stress, too much or too little.
The current market indicators are showing an increase in supply and a decrease in demand for phosphorus and potassium going into the 2023 growing season, this indicates a downward pressure on P and K prices. If this carries out, we will see 2-3 years of declined fertilizer application rates. This will be good timing for phosphorus but could be stretching potassium a bit.
The positive in all of the product challenges is that shortages were minimal. With alternates products available in most case this was a good opportunity for producers to grow in their management. This has led producer to try new products and new practices in their operations. Over the past year the agronomy staff has had a significant increase in conversations with client about closer management of nutrients, especially nitrogen. The positive to the higher prices is an overall tighter management of nutrient applications. In 1888, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first stated, “Out of life's school of war—what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.” This phrase has wide applications as the 2022 growing season pushed many producers, but it also made them better managers.
2022 also pushed us as a laboratory. We were ordering supplies upwards of 6 months in advance to keep the lab operational. The entire year was plagued with supply price increases, supply shortages, shipping delays and labor shortages. The spring soil sampling season volumes were higher than normal with many samples not completed due to the wet fall of 2021, which prevented some soil samples from being collected. This along with strong fertilizer prices led to increased soil sample volumes in the spring of 2022. Strong grain prices supported stronger than normal plant tissue testing volumes during the summer. The fall soil sampling brought a compressed sampling season. Southern Indiana through Tennessee was 3-4 weeks behind in crop development while Michigan and Wisconsin were 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. Usually, samples start coming in from the southern parts of our sales territory in mid-September and there is a 5-7 week delay until northern Michigan hits full harvest. This year the entire service territory started in early October, compressing that start window to about 2-3 weeks. Without any major weather systems hitting the region, sample volumes were continuously strong from early October till early December.
While 2022 proved challenging for all aspects of crop fertility in production agriculture, the dedication of those we work with made it successful. Thank you to our suppliers for doing what they could to always keep us operational. Thank you to the lab staff for their creativity, planning and amazing work ethic to do whatever it took to keep the samples moving for our customers. Finally thank you to our customer for putting your confidence in us, for the long/constant hours to keep the samples flowing into the lab, and for the partnership to work through any challenges that arose. While 2022 was difficult, it was also rewarding to see what we all accomplished working together.