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Major fertilizer dealers consider shift to safer forms.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

December 8, 2006

3 Min Read

Some farmers inside Indiana borders will be required to either rethink how they apply nitrogen for corn, or look for a new supplier for '07. Word on the street is that at least some dealers are looking at phasing out of anhydrous ammonia and offering liquid nitrogen instead.

One operation manager inside Indiana says his dealership is likely to make the switch next year. He expects most customers will understand and go along with the switch. The driving force seems to be three-fold: insurance liability, safety and nuisance problems associated with anhydrous ammonia thefts by unsavory characters bent on making Meth drugs. Anhydrous ammonia is one of the required ingredients needed to 'cook' up the illegal drug.

"We haven't had a major incident from theft - but we don't want one either," one dealer told Indiana Prairie Farmer. So far their run-ins have been limited to minor incidents, he added.

Disputing that other forms of nitrogen for corn are safer to handle is a losing argument. The industry has pointed out for years that farmers need to take extra care, and wear proper protective equipment, including proper gloves and goggles, when dealing with anhydrous ammonia. The gaseous form of nitrogen has a great affinity for water, and can destroy eyesight or burn exposed skin tissue almost immediately.

Many farmers continue working with it, however, because it is still the cheapest source of nitrogen for corn. While prices for anhydrous ammonia skyrocketed last year since the industry shifted to diverting expensive natural gas, a feedstock ingredient for making anhydrous ammonia, to other uses, the price was somewhat lower this fall, but still historically at relatively high levels. However, compared to other nitrogen source alternatives, including liquid nitrogen, it still remains several cents per unit of nitrogen cheaper. That attractive price and the need to keep crop budget numbers down has caused many farmers to continue working with anhydrous ammonia, despite the safety risks and the added risks of theft and dealing with a criminal element in the countryside that have arisen just over the past few years.

One thing farmers don't often factor in, the Indiana dealer about to switch reminds, is that application costs for anhydrous ammonia are considerably higher than for liquid nitrogen or other nitrogen sources. Agronomists advise injecting liquid 28% nitrogen for best efficiency, but it can be accomplished with a simple coulter applicator that places the liquid nitrogen just below the surface, or shoots a stream of it into a slot created by a coulter. Anhydrous equipment is much heavier in most cases.

It also takes a lot more horsepower, a much bigger tractor, and more diesel fuel to power an anhydrous injection application than to apply any of the other sources of nitrogen, the dealer notes. Rising fuel costs make the cost of powering a bigger smoke-belching tractor a bigger factor than in the past few years.

The dealer advises that farmers consider all the costs, not just the raw product cost, when deciding whether to switch to liquid nitrogen if their local supplier switches, or to seek anhydrous ammonia from another supplier instead.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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