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Granular fertilizer; wheat-production woes


Your article “Global Granular Shift” (September, page 6) gives the impression that granular urea is a better value than anhydrous ammonia. This is not the case where I farm. Currently anhydrous costs $500/ton, which converts to $0.30 per unit of N. Urea costs $390/ton, and converts to $0.42 per unit of N. Then there's equipment cost. Switching my drill over to dry granular fertilizer from my current anhydrous setup would cost at least $25,000.

Handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be dangerous. But in my system, anhydrous is safe and very convenient.
Bob Arnson
Williston, ND

You are correct that NH3 continues to be the most economical form of N for many farmers. What our article was getting at is that high domestic energy costs are making granular fertilizer an increasingly attractive option for the companies that manufacture and sell N fertilizer. The fertilizer can be manufactured overseas, where natural gas is cheaper. Granular urea is easier to transport in large ships than NH3 is. It is also easier and less inexpensive for fertilizer companies and retailers to store.

Ultimately, these actions may help avoid shortages of N. As time goes on, the industry trend may change the economics of various forms of fertilizer for farmers.
— The Editors


I farm in the heart of one of the top wheat-producing states in the nation. But with the risk of scab and rising input costs and a wheat price parked in the $3 range, I question whether I can afford to produce this crop any longer.

This year we did everything we were supposed to do to produce a decent wheat crop, and the potential was there for 65 to 70 bu./acre yields. But judging by the aborted spikelets, we lost about 20% of the crop to scab. Our average wheat yield was around 55 bu./acre. A loss of 10 to 15 bu./acre on 3,000 acres at $3.40 is $102,000 to $153,000 in lost gross sales.

Then there was vomitoxin associated with the scab, which I figure cost about $0.30/bu. in quality discounts. On 3,000 acres, that's $60,000. I spent about $42,000 on fungicide to try to prevent scab. But altogether scab ended up costing me well over $200,000 in 2005. And now we're facing $500/ton fertilizer and $3/gal. fuel to grow $3 wheat (before discounts) in 2006.

The research community generally concludes that the only way to solve scab is through better genetics. And yet here we are, a dozen years since the major scab epidemic hit the Northern Plains in 1993, with only a few modest genetic improvements in spring wheat, and little headway in durum and barley.

If scab and input costs end up killing the U.S. wheat production sector, let anti-biotech extremists be the pallbearers. Public and private biotech approaches toward scab research quietly continue today. But the effort as a whole has been stymied by a few Chicken Littles who have squawked about the cost of testing and segregating biotech wheat, or losing export sales to a few buyers who don't want biotech wheat.

The wheat industry shouldn't allow a minority of anti-biotech views to stifle wheat R&D progress. If more people quit growing wheat, there will be less quantity and quality of supply to source from. Eventually, it could dwindle to a supply that becomes unreliable for buyers. Inconceivable? Hardly.

Here on my farm, soil test results point to corn, soybeans or flax as options to consider in 2006. Wheat just doesn't pencil out.
Jeff Topp
Grace City, ND

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