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Acreage Battle: Record Fall Fertilizer Applications Need To Factor Into The Acreage Debate

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2021 acreage estimates are rolling out, with some early estimates suggesting farmers plan to plant more corn this year. The ProFarmer/Doane planting intentions survey revealed those farmer members who were surveyed plan to plant just under  90 million acres of soybeans and 93 million acres of corn. But the Farmers Business Network (FBN) member survey showed farmers intend to plant 87.6 million acres of soybeans, and with an already tight balance sheet for soybean carryover, fewer acres could cause soybean prices to explode.

However, while the acreage battle may be tricky this year, with most estimates pointing to an increase in overall acres, there are some acres that can’t be switched. That’s as StoneX says farmers had a record fall, applying the most fall fertilizer they ever had. And a big fall means those corn acres are already locked in.

“Our estimates are that approximately 2.11 million tons of NH3 (anhydrous ammonia) were applied last fall,” says Josh Linville,  director of fertilizer for StoneX Group. “This number was reached by surveying the marketplace and overlaying that information with our own reports. This would not be the biggest fall on record, but certainly the biggest fall in the last several years.”

Linville points out this doesn’t necessarily mean more than 2 million tons of anhydrous were applied on every corn acre.

“To reach that high of an application volume, all fall application territories have to have been hitting on all cylinders for a substantial amount of time,” he says. “This does not mean that all corn acres were applied. Only the acres that farmers were confident that they would plant corn to were applied. With most farmers strictly adhering to a rotation, many of these acres were known last fall.”

Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist and owner of Crop-Tech Consulting in Heyworth, Ill., says the amount of work that was done last fall was historic. But that work also lasted into winter.

“For a lot of the ‘I-states’ and a lot of areas, we hit a tremendous, long fall,” says Ferrie. “So, we’ve got, in some cases, 70% to 80% of our potash and our phosphate is already on. And a large portion in the areas where we do fall anhydrous, a large portion of the nitrogen has been put on too, because it's been such an open winter.”

Farmers are reporting NH3 prices have shot up 60% in some areas. Linville says that’s due to tighter supplies and more demand for the product. As the pipeline was cleared out, the industry is working to backfill the product. But it’s a process that’s not happening quickly. However, high fertilizer prices could play into some farmers’ decisions, if they haven’t already applied product on certain acres.

“Drought conditions are not likely to affect the spring NH3 application season,” says Linville. “The areas which are currently most affect by drought are the same areas that had solid fall application periods. Once NH3 is applied to the field, switching to soybeans is no longer an option unless the farmer is willing to give up their N cost.”

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