April's Ag Advice by April Borders Natural gas prices and nitrogen fertilizer prices are closely linked. In the last two years, as natural gas prices have increased anhydrous ammonia prices have increased. With the U.S. Department of Energy predicting further increases in natural gas prices through the winter, it is estimated that nitrogen prices may be up 12 to 15 percent from last year.
As producers start developing nitrogen fertilizer plans for next spring, they may want to consider the following:
1. Plan early. Start talking to fertilizer suppliers. Look at different options for locking in your prices.
2. Soil test this fall. Soil samples for nitrogen, sulfur and chloride need to be taken to a depth of 24 inches since these nutrients can move readily down into the soil with water. The best way to ensure that you get an accurate fertilizer recommendation for all nutrients is to send the sample to the lab in two bags, one from the top 6 inches and the other from the next 18 inches of soil. The top 6-inch depth is tested for all nutrients and the 6- to 24-inch depth is tested only for the nitrogen and sulfur or chloride if requested. Most often the soil-testing labs will bill these "two bag" samples as one sample.
3. Follow the SDSU Fertilizer Recommendations Guide. There are some changes that are being made in the guide and new guides will be coming out soon.
4. Comparison shop. Look at different products and do some "fertilizer arithmetic" to compare the actual cost per pound of nutrients, especially with mixed grade fertilizers. Work with a reputable dealer who can provide accurate estimates, timely delivery, well-maintained equipment and service. Remember it's the service after the sale that is important! Also look to unbiased information from the Cooperative Extension Service, educators and specialists.
5. Look at alternative nitrogen sources. Manure is a valuable resource. It not only supplies nitrogen and phosphorus but micronutrients and sulfur in addition to adding carbon to the soil organic pool. With high nitrogen costs, it's a good idea to price manure for its total nutrient content value. Make sure to include the transportation costs. Even applying lower rates of manure (10-15 tons per acre) and then supplementing nitrogen next summer based on crop nitrogen status is a good way to reduce costs. It is best to have manure analyzed by a lab to determine its nutrient content. Manure nitrogen availability can range from 50 percent to 70 percent the first year depending on the source (fresh, stockpiled or composted).
With prices expected to increase, it's a good time to accurately measure soil organic matter and residual nitrate levels, then set realistic yield goals to determine nitrogen need. Nitrogen fertilizer is still one of the best investments in crop production. You need to look at the best management practices that will provide you the most profit for your production potential.
For more information contact the Clay County Extension Service at 677-7111.