Fertilizer costs up 24 percent from last year

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Prices of the nation's farm commodities are 23 percent higher on average than a year ago, according to a report released Oct. 31 by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The report also shows October prices rose by 3.4 percent from September.

Producers, however, are quick to point out that their input costs -- such as fertilizer, fuel, labor and feed -- rose by 11 percent from October 2010, almost triple the inflation rate.

American Falls, Idaho, grower Jim Tiede, chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission, is encouraged by the price trends but is concerned about the cost of fertilizer, which is up by 24 percent throughout the U.S. from last year.

"Phosphate really jumped again," Tiede said. "The scary thing is we put all of our phosphate on in the fall prior to when the next year's planting occurs, so we're paying the high price before even knowing what next year's crop is going to do."

In southern Idaho, University of Idaho Extension economist Paul Patterson said diesel fuel costs are up 33 percent from last year.

Regarding southern Idaho's fertilizer inputs, urea is up 30 percent, liquid nitrogen is up 46 percent, phosphate is up 68 percent and potassium is up 19 percent. Furthermore, Patterson said southern Idaho pesticide costs are up 13 to 15 percent per acre.

According to the NASS report, the average price Idaho potato growers received at the end of October was $6.60 per hundredweight, down from $7.40 in September but up slightly from $6.40 at this time last year.

Though Idaho's October price was $1.18 less than the national average, Patterson predicts the market will stabilize, noting many spuds were harvested early to address short supply in processing plants at the end of this summer.

"If you look at the overall size of the crop this year, the market basically overreacted, and it will come back," Patterson said.

Grain prices are up in Idaho from last year, though Patterson said they've begun to soften lately in response to the downward trend in corn prices.

Idaho barley prices were $5.80 per bushel at the end of October, down 8 cents from September but up $1.81 from last year. Idaho wheat prices were $6.74 per bushel at the end of October, 27 cents less than last month but 91 cents higher than a year ago.

Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, has spoken with officials from Texas and other states that fared poorly this year due to drought.

"In the Pacific Northwest, and of course Idaho, we were fortunate Mother Nature gave us the tools to work with this crop," Jones said. "(Growers) have got enough of a margin it seems right now to have one of those grand years that don't come around often enough to keep people farming."

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