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Best management practices for nitrogen

May 15, 2009
From Wayne Schoper, Brown/Nicollet Extension Educator

Just a year ago, we were looking at all-time high prices for many different kinds of fertilizer including Nitrogen (N). At that time, prices were going up mainly fueled by the skyrocketing price of oil. Anhydrous Ammonia (AA) which is a major source of nitrogen for growing corn in our area requires petroleum products in its manufacturing process. Since corn is a grass, it requires additional nitrogen in order to produce a grain crop at a profitable level. Traditionally, a dollars worth of nitrogen fertilizer returned at a ratio of 7 or 8 per dollar invested. AA had been priced around $400 per ton. Since AA is 82% nitrogen that works out to 1,640 pounds of nitrogen per ton or about $.24 per pound of actual N. With the big drive-up of oil prices (up to $147 a barrel at its peak) AA prices correspondingly took a big hike also. By last summer, suppliers were telling farmers that they had to lock in now in order to assure that they would have access to AA for fall application for the 2009 corn crop. Many farmers were forced to commit to Anhydrous Ammonia prices at $800 to $900 per ton or double what they were at just a few months before. Then the prices climbed again until we were at $1,150 to $1,200 per ton or about $.75 per pound of actual N by last October. This tripling of prices also brought along huge price increases in almost all other crop inputs. Seed corn jumped to around $100 per acre, up from $55 to$60 just a few years earlier. Fortunately, corn and soybean prices were strong and we could support some increases in inputs. And of course, we did see land rents increase substantially, currently at around $165 per acre for 2009 production.



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