World Fertilizer Supplies in 2020

News is beginning to spread about possible crop production input chain disruption for the 2020 growing season. Looking to fertilizer inputs, those imported materials take weeks to months to reach US producers. Much of that material is ordered for delivery before spring through the early spring planting season. A large portion of the material for the 2020 spring season is already in the domestic manufacturing channel, in the transportation/import/export channels or has been delivered. While fertilizer supplies may become tighter as spring progresses, supply should be able to meet normal spring fertilizer demand.

With this logistical support for spring supply, it could also possibly impact the fall fertilizer supply. Due to needed lead time, the fertilizer production for the fall of 2020 starts months before delivery at the mine, so that the product can work its way through the mining, manufacturing and transportation channels to reach U.S. farmers in the fall of 2020.

China is the global leader in nitrogen production at 40 million tons in 2019, with Russia in second with 15 million tons, and the U.S. in third at 14 million tons. The U.S. has increased its nitrogen production by over 40% since 2015 thus reducing our imports of nitrogen to only 12.5% of 2019 consumption.

China is also the world’s largest phosphate producer. China’s 2019 production was 110 million tons, followed by Morocco at 38 million tons, and the U.S. falls in third with 23 million tons. The U.S. farmer is somewhat protected since the U.S. imports less than 10% of the annual phosphate consumption primarily from Peru (79%) and Morocco (20%). Covid-19 disruptions in manufacturing and transportation within the U.S. and globally may decrease world supply in the coming months, but not due to import interruptions.

Canada is the world's largest potash producer at 13 million tons in 2019. Belarus and Russia are close in proximity and production of both at 7 million tons. China comes in at 4th with 5 million tons and the U.S. comes in a distant 10th place in potash production at 0.5 million tons. The U.S. imports over 90% of the domestic potash consumption. While 81% of out imported potash comes from Canada, which logistically is easier than importing phosphate from South America or Africa, we are importing a significant portion of our potash.

For nitrogen and phosphate, the U.S. is self-sufficient and retains most of the material for domestic consumption. The U.S. farmer relies heavily on Canada for potash production, but this relatively close import mitigates some of that risk. As we have seen with disruptions in the food supply chain in the U.S. and globally, there is a potential for disruptions in fertilizer supply for the fall 2020. 

As more agronomists and producers move to soil sampling more frequently and often a season ahead of fertilizer application, these practices may become even more advantageous as it allows producers and suppliers to estimate fertilizer needs and procure those products months before they need to apply. Fertilizer pricing and sourcing are just two of the many advantages to sampling in advance of applications. Contact you ALGL agronomist to discuss additional benefits.

(data source – U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodities Summaries, January 2020)

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