Although the conflict is halfway around the world, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted various aspects of daily life in the United States. It further drove up the price of gas and raised concerns about a nuclear conflict. Although the war is only a month old, local farmers are already worried about the impact it will have on the growth of their crops, especially when it comes to fertilizers.
“To associate a big problem as simply being due to a war in most cases is overblown, but not with fertilizers,” said Newfane producer Jim Bittner. “Fertilizers are probably the biggest thing you can say what’s going on with Russia and Ukraine is really causing a lot of problems.”
Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium hydroxide are key components of fertilizers used by growers. Much of the export of these items came from Russia and Belarus, both of which now have sanctions against them. Ukraine is struggling to export its own products due to the chaos of war, including the attack on its Black Sea ports by Russia. All of this means that there is less supply reaching the world market, thus increasing nutrient prices due to increased demand.
“The biggest problem is getting the barges from point A to point B,” said John King, president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau. “Whether it’s Europe, India or any other country in the world that needs fertilizer to plant its crops, it puts a strain on the entire global supply chain.”
The problems related to the war in Ukraine add to the existing problems of inflation, shortage of supply and the Covid pandemic. Although not all of the fertilizer that reaches Niagara County comes entirely from Eastern Europe, prices are even higher due to increased global demand. Shipping will probably be the most difficult aspect due to increased competition on a product that is in short supply.
“All of these things are global markets,” Bittner said. “It doesn’t matter that you can always stock up. Prices have gone up because someone else is bidding, because they can’t get theirs.
Butch Rhinehart of WH Rhinehart Inc. in Middleport sells fertilizers from around the world in his store. He says prices for fertilizers and other chemical solutions have more than doubled since last year.
“It comes from the United States and the rest of the world: Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, China. It comes from everywhere,” Rhinehart said. “It’s the same with the chemicals used in insecticides, pesticides and herbicides. They have at least doubled in price, if not more.
Bittner, a fruit grower, doesn’t expect to be as affected as growers of other crops such as corn and soybeans because fruit trees don’t require as much fertilizer. Some of his crops only require specific nutrients.
“Fortunately for us, these crops don’t require as much fertilizer as corn, but they do require about as much potassium as corn,” Bittner said. “We hardly put any nitrogen on the apple trees, but stone fruits like peaches and cherries use up nitrogen. So to get a good crop size and a return crop next year, we we have to make sure we fertilize this year.”
Good weather through the end of May could lessen the financial blow to growers, King said.
“It’s going to be a struggle,” he said. “If this season is going to be a season where we have good weather through May and these farms can plant without interruption, the logistical challenge of making sure we have enough produce for farmers to continue planting will be our biggest goal.”
“There’s not much we can do,” Bittner said. “If you want to grow a crop, you have to do it 100%. You can’t do anything halfway. You do it or you don’t. There is simply too much at stake.”
While all crops will be affected, corn will likely be the hardest hit, as it needs a lot of land to fertilize.
King said incidents like this are usually the reason growers tend to fertilize ample amounts, in case they suddenly need to cut back.
“We like to refer to our soil as our bank account,” he said. “We already have so many nutrients in there and try to fertilize exactly what we need year after year. This bank is building up and we are seeing farms tapping into this reserve. So instead of putting in more fertilizer, they rely on the soil chemistry that already exists,”
Home gardeners will also face bid price increases, but on a much smaller scale, observed John Farfaglia, horticulturist at Niagara County Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“I would expect to see price increases this year,” he said. “I think for most small home gardeners it might not be as important because they use smaller amounts in their garden.”
Regardless of what countermeasures commercial growers are able to take, due to the long-term shipping requirements inherent in the job, there is very little they will be able to do now to contain costs.
“We’re just going to have to smile and put up with it,” Bittner said. “We’re going to have to pay the higher price, and hopefully we’ll get a better price for our fruit in the fall. »