A global shortage of nitrogen fertilizer is driving prices to record levels, prompting North America’s farmers to delay purchases and raising the risk of a spring scramble to apply the crop nutrient before planting season, according to a report by The Guardian.
Farmers apply nitrogen to boost yields of corn, canola and wheat, and higher fertilizer costs could translate into higher meat and bread prices. World food prices hit a 10-year high in October, according to the UN food agency, led by increases in cereal crops and vegetable oils.
In the US, nitrogen fertilizer supplies are adequate for applications before winter, said Daren Coppock, CEO at the US-based Agricultural Retailers Association. But with prices so high, some farmers are delaying purchases, risking a scramble for supplies during their busiest time of year, Coppock said.
Global nitrogen fertilizer sales were worth $53bn in 2020, and prices are at least 80% higher so far this year, according to Argus Media.
Nutrien Ltd, the largest US farm supplier, has secured less nitrogen fertilizer than usual for spring delivery because manufacturers are making less available, said Jeff Tarsi, the company’s senior vice-president of retail. Sales to farmers are likely to occur closer to spring than usual, he said.