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Worldwide fertilizer shortage impacting local farmers in Northeast Wisconsin

Fertilizer shortage
Posted at 9:26 PM, May 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-09 22:27:04-04

GREENLEAF (NBC 26) — A worldwide shortage of fertilizer is impacting local farmers in Northeast Wisconsin, putting another strain on farmers that are already experiencing high production costs due to inflation.

Experts say the shortage is being caused by supply chain issues, as well as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia is one of the top fertilizer exporters in the world. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Russia was the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizers and the second-largest supplier of both potassic and phosphorous fertilizers in 2021.

“Russia, Belarus, are both major fertilizer producers for different types and when they do use it, they ship it out through the Black Sea, and so that’s been disrupted,” said Paul Mitchell, a professor of agriculture and applied economics at UW-Madison.

Now that the supply from Russia has been disrupted, the cost of fertilizer has begun to spike.

"A lot of our nitrogen fertilizers are processed from natural gas," said Kevin Erb, a conservation specialist with UW Extension Brown County. "So with the situation in Ukraine and Russia and the export market right now, we're seeing really a tightening of supply, and anytime supply is tight, prices tend to go up."

Erb says there's been a 30 to 70 percent increase in the price of fertilizer, depending on the type. Dan Wiese of Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf estimates that the cost of his normal fertilizer has nearly doubled. The inflated cost has caused Wiese to be more selective about the amount of fertilizer that he's using. He says his farm has turned to using manure from their livestock in place of chemical fertilizer.

“It took a scenario like this for us to give the manure the value that it had and be able to use manure correctly, apply it correctly and be able to grow a good crop with a renewable fertilizer," Wiese said.

Wiese says he's been able to get a higher price for his crops this year, which has helped offset the cost of fertilizer in the short term. Now, he can only hope the market stays up.

"We don't know how long the markets are going to hold," Wiese said. "That's something we wake up and look at everyday to try to get an idea of how long things are going to last, when we should sell, and what we should do."