Not surprisingly, the current fertiliser market is very quiet. Indeed, the only movement is concerned with fulfilling current orders, writes Roger Chesher. Attempts by some to wriggle out of existing deals are being strongly resisted. A deal is a deal, whether prices are going up or down.
Most people agree that it would be best to wait, at least until January, before buying fertiliser, as price adjustment is almost bound to take place.
It would be wrong, however, to assume that the longer one waits, the cheaper the price must be. This may be so, but there are too many factors at work to make it inevitable.
In fact, the amount of nitrogen yet to be sold in the UK is relatively small. About 80% of the market has already gone this season. There should be no difficulty in supplying the remaining 20%, but the price of nitrogen on the global market today is artificially low, because major buyers in the Far East, Africa and South America have still yet to buy. The scrabble for urea after Christmas will push prices up once more, albeit not to previous levels in a climate where all commodities are depressed.
The compound market is quite different. Best estimates suggest that even taking a 20% reduction in demand into account, lack of deliveries so far means that some 1,000,000 t of compound will be needed between January and May.
The logistical problems of such delivery are often completely underestimated. Certainly it is hard to countenance a situation where a farmer will not get fertiliser this spring, but whether it is exactly what he needs on the day that he wants it is another matter.
The Baltic ports have an unhappy knack of freezing in the spring. Straight nitrogen and high nitrogen fertiliser may only be transported by a limited number of licensed hauliers and hauliers generally are reducing staff and becoming less readily available.
With the addition of outstanding nitrogen orders, the trade must move 11,700t per day between January and May. To place this in perspective, a factory the size of GrowHow at Ince can move 4,000t in one day, at a pinch. This means that the industry is facing the biggest logistical nightmare in its history.
Under these circumstances, holding off until the last minute is maybe not such a good idea.
Only the worst pessimist would fail to recognise that at last some respite in fertiliser prices is on its way. Both phosphate and potash costs have eased, but the value of the pound having fallen 30% against the dollar has not helped. Perhaps overall, easing rather than crashing is a more appropriate term.
Volatile, few prices £650
Muriate of Potash (60%K2O)
20.10.10 / 27.5.5
New prices shortly
Autumn grades (PK)
Copper, zinc, selenium,
†Note in the
*Known as 24.2½.10 blend in the
**Known as 27.2½.5 in ROI
Note All illustrated prices are based upon 24 tonne loads for immediate payment. Prices for smaller loads and those with credit terms will vary considerably.