ISSUE #480

480 - Managing Costly Fertilizer N


Prices of raw materials used in fertilizer manufacturing especially natural gas are at an all time high. Fertilizer prices have reached unprecedented highs as well. Dr. Dave Franzen, NDSU Extension Soils Specialist discussed reasons for these high prices in detail at a workshop for certified crop advisors January 25 in Fargo. A summary of his key points includes:

  • Prices are 30-40 cents/lb of N
  • Fall 2005 anhydrous ammonia price was based on $8 natural gas; the price is now $12 so fertilizer prices will increase
  • Ninety percent of the cost of making anhydrous ammonia is natural gas.
  • Record quantities of natural gas and urea are being imported, but seaport facilities, especially New Orleans can't handle the traffic efficiently.
  • Five anhydrous ammonia facilities have closed in the last year in North America.
  • The ITC has recently ruled high tariffs on cheaper Russian and eastern bloc urea N will stay in place 5 more years - SO MUCH FOR FREE TRADE.
  • Some natural gas contracts intended for fertilizer use have been sold for other uses.
  • Dr. Franzen expects high N prices to persist well into the future.

Nitrogen Management Strategies for a High Input Environment

Utilize Beet Top N Credits

  • Beet tops can contain up to 100 lbs. of N per acre or more
  • The N in the tops is readily available the following May
  • N credits can save $5 to $35 per acre for crops after beets
  • NEVER fertilize soybean after beets
  • Using N credits will not reduce yields of crops planted after sugarbeet

Table 1: Wheat Yield and Quality from 22 RRV Fields Using N Credits after Beets in 2001, American Crystal Sugar Company Agriculture Department Data

ZoneN Credit (lbs/A)Added N FertilizerYield (Bu/A)Test Weight (lbs)Protein (%)
A 75 75 56.2 59.7 12.9
B 115 35 55.1 59.6 12.8
C 150 0 55.5 59.5 12.7

Utilize Zone N Management

  • Zone soil sampling and variable rate N application can save $5, $10, $20/acre or more in N fertilizer cost.
  • Zone N management increases revenue per acre by $45.
  • Zone N management improves both quality and yield of the sugarbeet crop.
  • Better N management reduces small grain lodging and improves barley malting quality in the rotation.


Utilizing N Credits and Zone Management Is Easy

  • Access American Crystal Sugar Company satellite imagery of previous beet crops.
  • Review the imagery and select fields for utilizing N credits or zone N management.
  • Contact your agriculturist for assistance.
  • Contact your crop consultant for assistance.
  • Spend $ 3 to $5 per acre to realize an average increase in revenue of $45/acre. Some fields may return only $10 to $20/acre, but highly variable fields may realize $60, $70 or $80/acre more revenue.

Other Cost Saving Opportunities

  • Band versus broadcast herbicides
  • Band apply P and discontinue broadcast P
  • Reduce row crop cultivations, 1 or 2 is enough
  • Use GDD for timing herbicide application
  • Use N credits for legumes in rotation
  • Use N credits for potato when rotating to sugarbeet
  • Cercospora management by field not by the farm: Consider

    • Planting date
    • Variety disease rating
    • Time of disease onset
    • Length of rotation

Sugarbeet Show

The International Sugarbeet Institute will be at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on March 15 and 16.

Pocket Guides

The 2006 Sugarbeet Pocket Production Guides are available from your Agriculturist.