Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Last week at Commodity Classic, the head of the Fertilizer Institute announced that fertilizer supplies may be down as much as 50 percent this year. The main reason? A possible railroad strike in Canada stopping the flow of potash into the U.S., coupled with natural gas shortages that slow the manufacture of ammoniated fertilizer.

Even without the strike, farmers know that fertilizer will be hard to come by this year. So, let’s take the 50-percent reduction as a worst-case scenario, and explore ten ideas farmers can use to prepare for fertilizer shortages this year.

  1. Talk with your fertilizer dealer. Get the facts. Every situation will be different.
  2. Trust your soil tests. Fields that test sufficient for phosphorus and potassium are good to go. Fields that need potassium this year but will not be treated are good places to reduce nitrogen applications to keep the N and K balanced. Corn plants deficient of potassium with full levels of nitrogen are likely to lodge and become a tangled mess at harvest.
  3. Take care of your best fields first. Your most productive fields will provide the most profitable response to added fertility. For problem child fields – too wet in the morning and too dry in the afternoon – use a starter application and side-dress with the N available.
  4. If you have only used a yield goal for N applications in the past, this is the year to take into account the cost of the fertilizer and price of corn. The MRTN tool for the Midwest states is a farmer’s best friend to optimize the use of Nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen Rate Calculator (
  5. Many of the corn acres in states outside of the Corn Belt receive manure applications. Thanks to the pre-side-dress nitrogen test (PSNT), we no longer have to guess how much of the manure nitrogen is available to plants. Google PSNT to obtain local information.
  6. Many of us old timers remember the golden rule of applying 1 pound of nitrogen for each bushel of corn yield. Try reducing this rule of thumb to 0.8 pounds per bushel (80 pounds of N for 100 bushels of corn).
  7. The fields that will utilize fertilizer most efficiently are compaction-free, well-drained, and have a pH greater than 6.
  8. If potassium if available but nitrogen is short, target soybeans for these fields.
  9. Early termination of cover crops – like right now – will help slow the tie-up of nutrients.
  10. If we have a nice warm spring, and your soil test show sufficient P fertility, you can decrease or eliminate starter fertilizer.