Why Cut Back on Fertilizer?

Published on: 05:25AM Jul 30, 2008
Vance Ehmke

Since well before fertilizer prices really started going up, we’ve been doing systematic and intensive soil testing to cut back on how much fertilizer we’ve been using.

And while we’ve been very successful in making big cuts in usage, I’m beginning to think we would have been dollars ahead if we had never conserved at all.

No, it’s not because we hurt ourselves on yield because we put on less than adequate amounts of fertilizer. We made sure that didn’t happen—especially with nitrogen. Instead of just looking at the nitrogen in the 0- to 8-inch profile, we’ve been going down in an 0- to 20-inch range.

And, of course, after years of more than adequate fertility programs, we had money in the bank—and we’ve been withdrawing that recently.

So without any change in yield goal, we’ve been able to cut N use in half on many fields. In cases, we’ve been able to eliminate N altogether on our dryland wheat production.

But did we screw up by cutting back?

Because of the almost insane rate of inflation in cost of nitrogen fertilizers—more than doubling in the past year—here’s another way of looking at what we did: yes, we were able to cut back on buying $450/ton anhydrous. But today, we have to replace those tons with anhydrous costing $l000/ton!

And who knows where fertilizer prices will peak out?

In the past year, anhydrous has gone from $450/ton to $l000. Where will it be a year from now?

To make matters worse, these are great income years—and we’re literally struggling to find places to spend money. Additional fertilizer deductions last year would have saved a ton of money in taxes.

So in looking back, maybe it’s a mistake cut back.

And finally, here’s your words of wisdom for the day: Eat one live toad the first thing every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.