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Soggy Start to Spring Points to Fertilizer Application Delays for US Corn

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Soggy early spring conditions point to pre-plant ammonia fertilizer application delays and possible planting setbacks for corn in the US’ Northern Plains and Eastern Corn Belt. After weeks of wet conditions in southern Missouri and key crop regions east of the Mississippi River, ammonia fertilizer applications prior to spring planting are already lagging. 

Substantial delays to pre-plant ammonia injections in April could lead farmers to ramp up consumption of nitrogen alternatives, such as UAN and urea, after their crop has been planted and emerges.

During this time of the year, US corn growers inject anhydrous ammonia into fields days prior to planting. This means that excessive moisture can hinder farmers' access to fields, as well as increase the risks of nutrient leaching.

Across the Eastern Corn Belt, which is responsible for about 22% of the US corn area, above-average precipitation is forecast through the end of this week. The forecast beyond this week through the end of the month is less certain.

Similarly, another round of snow could leave corn-growing parts of the Dakotas and northern Minnesota vulnerable to fieldwork delays due to excessive snowpack. 

Snow depth in US corn areas as of late March reached the highest levels in Gro’s data series, with the largest totals concentrated in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Together, these states are expected to account for 24% of initial corn area this season and 25% of soybean acreage. Corn farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota face the highest level of snow depth in more than 20 years as of March 31. There, rising temperatures as this spring unfolds could hasten snowmelt, raising flood and prevent plant risks, while potentially squeezing urea and monoammonium phosphate (MAP) fertilizer consumption. 

Gro users can monitor soil moisture levels and other key weather metrics for crop growth in our proprietary Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture, and from late-April, Gro users can also use Gro’s Prevent Plant Forecast Model for corn and soybeans to predict which areas of the Northern Plains and Eastern Corn Belt are likely to face planting problems stemming from overly wet soils. 

In 2022, reduced fertilizer usage — due to low affordability and supply disruptions — impacted food production around the world, which we wrote about here. In the US, an estimated 50.4 trillion calories in staple crop production was lost due to decreased applications of nitrogen fertilizer, according to Gro’s Global Fertilizer Impact Monitor, which calculates the impact on crop output worldwide based on projected cutbacks in nitrogen fertilizer consumption. 

Gro users can calculate US fertilizer affordability by accessing data on our platform using Gro's Excel add-in. Contact our team here to learn more. 

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