Farmers with fertiliser still to order are being urged to speak to merchants now to avert a potential logistical log-jam this spring.

Agri supply trade association Agricultural Industries Confederation said there had been a sharp downturn in fertiliser deliveries over recent months and it is worried the supply industry won’t be able to cope with a sudden surge in demand.

AIC said that by the end of November, deliveries of compound fertilisers were down by over 40% on last year and straight nitrogen deliveries down about 10%. “There is a general consensus that the downturn in orders continued into December, and the New Year has seen slow progress,” David Stacey, chairman of AIC’s fertiliser executive said. “Matters have not been helped by some commentators talking of fertiliser being freely available. This will not be the case, as many plants have been idle in recent months.”

Haulier Paul Brewster said he had only been delivering about 15 loads of fertiliser a week, compared with nearer 70 normally at this time of year. “Farmers have got to look at the longer-term picture,” he said. “I fear there could be a shortage of competent hauliers to make the deliveries in what is quite a short time-span.”

AIC estimated that 800 to 1000 lorry journeys would be needed every working day between now and the spring application season to meet predicted demand, about 60% more than normal. “Logistics will be the biggest problem as the hauliers just won’t be able to get the fertiliser to them,” Mr Stacey said.

The NFU‘s Hannah Moule agreed that now was the time for farmers to speak to merchants, but she warned against making rash decisions. “There is pressure on compound prices, so don’t be afraid to negotiate on deals. See what merchants can offer, then decide whether your business can sustain that cost.”