Treat N imports with care
By Suzie Horne
IMPORTED nitrogen is struggling to feature in forward business for this autumns market.
But most traders believe it will provide competition for home-produced nitrogen, although not in the volumes seen over the past few seasons.
Ammonium nitrate imports have been falling for three seasons. This is despite the Russians having made enormous improvements in the quality and reliability of their product, partly due to investment by western manufacturers.
The higher import duty imposed from Mar 27 this year and competitive prices for UK-made product have put the pressure on imports. That, coupled with even more hand-to-mouth buying by growers, means a limited tonnage of old stock can still be found at discounted prices.
Traditionally, imported ammonium nitrate has needed to trade at a discount of about £10/t to home produced material to make it attractive. UK makers believe their products will have to reach £100/t by autumn or winter before imports again become competitive.
While firm prices are hard to find, there are indications that East European urea may be more competitive this autumn. Ideally, Baltic states like to ship product early for easier freight conditions. For the present, the main supplier of ammonium nitrate, Russia, is out of the market because prices are not competitive. Traders see no point in committing themselves forward when there is apparently no upside to the market. That would expose them to unnecessary risk.
That apart, most brokers are not even offering product yet. With the attractive payment terms being offered by UK manufacturers, the 60 day maximum which merchants can get on imported product does not look enticing.
But traders do warn those growers contemplating import purchases this autumn to source them through reliable suppliers, who will stand by a quality guarantee that the product will be free flowing at the time of use.
Because imports to both the UK and France have dropped, some of the product due to be shipped into the UK this autumn may have been stored for many months in uncertain conditions. Quality could be more of a risk than it has been in the past two or three seasons, says Neil Stannard, fertiliser manager at Mole Valley Farmers.
Imported nitrogen tends to be prilled material. While Russia has recently offered the best quality imported nitrogen, Lithuanian and Bulgarian material has also been good, say traders. Bulgaria, however, is usually after a better price than the UK can afford. Some of the Polish product can be rather small and does not keep so well. *