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Make proper comparisons on true nitrogen cost between sources.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

April 13, 2022

2 Min Read
equipment applying nitrogen in crop field
KNOW YOUR COST: How much will liquid nitrogen cost per pound this summer? How does it compare to other sources? Do the math before you buy. Tom J. Bechman

Your neighbor balked at paying $1,600 per ton for anhydrous ammonia. Instead, he bought urea for $900 per ton. He felt better because he paid much less per ton.

Did he get a good deal? Information provided by the Purdue Extension agronomy team indicates that on a per-pound-of-N basis, $1,600-per-ton anhydrous ammonia and $900-per-ton urea are priced the same at 98 cents per pound in both cases.

The team of Bob Nielsen, Jim Camberato and Dan Quinn recently upgraded cost comparison tables for nitrogen, breaking it down by cost per ton and cost per pound of N. Camberato notes that updating the tables was necessary because current fertilizer prices are so far off the charts that previous tables were out of date. In fact, the updated tables start at $1,050 per ton for anhydrous ammonia and $550 per ton for 28% liquid nitrogen. Those were at the upper limit of expected fertilizer prices just a short time ago.

Here are three examples. Note that none of these examples compare anything except cost per actual pound of N. If you must purchase different application equipment to change sources, or if you put a priority on convenience or safety, that could alter cost comparisons.

“Also, when nitrogen is applied and how it’s applied is important,” Camberato says. “Anhydrous ammonia is usually more efficient than other sources when applied early in the spring. Injected liquid nitrogen is often better than broadcast urea, especially on no-till ground.”

How cost of nitrogen compares for various sources table

Example 1. It will cost you $1,500 per ton for anhydrous ammonia. Is that a better deal than 32% UAN at $700 per ton?

Yes. If ammonia is $1,500 per ton, the cost per pound of actual N is 91 cents vs. $1.09 per pound for 32% N with prices at $700 per ton. Ammonia may carry a higher sticker shock if you’ve used it for a long time and never paid $1,000 per ton or more, Camberato notes. However, pound per pound, anhydrous ammonia is still the cheaper source in this example.

Example 2. You find urea at $600 per ton. Is that cheaper than paying $1,200 per ton for anhydrous ammonia?

Yes. You’re looking at 65 cents per pound of N in urea vs. 73 cents per pound of N in anhydrous. Again, this doesn’t take into consideration whether urea or anhydrous is more practical in your system.

Example 3. You can buy 28% UAN at $700 per ton or 32% UAN from elsewhere for $750 per ton. Which is the better deal?

All other things equal, buy the 32% UAN. You’re getting nitrogen for $1.17 per pound vs. $1.25 per pound with 28% UAN. The rub is that 32% contains more actual N per ton than 28% UAN, Camberato explains.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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