One of the great ironies of farming is that when the price you earn for what you grow rises, often the cost of your basic business necessities heads north too.
Sugarcane farmers are in this situation right now. World sugar prices have staged a recovery back to profitable levels but on the other side of our ledgers, the cost of vital fertilisers has skyrocketed.
Hit by restrictions on exports from some key manufacturing nations and high energy costs, fertiliser prices hit record levels in the second half of last year.
In Queensland, farmers faced bills that were more than double what they’d budgeted for or expected just to keep up their regular fertilising program.
This is bill shock at its worst! In December 2021, urea hit $1,400 a tonne. To put that into perspective, just 12 months earlier it had been priced at $400-$500 a tonne. That’s a huge increase and a huge headache for farmers.
The National Farmers’ Federation rightly says that most Australians would be shocked to learn that the nation imports 90% of the urea it uses.
Urea is the most-commonly used fertiliser in agriculture, and you may hear of it being talked about as nitrogen.
The NFF has estimated that without urea, crop production across the board would fall by 30-40%. That would be smaller harvests of grains, pulses, vegetables and other crops as well as sugarcane.
Imagine the implications on food supplies as well as export earnings for the country. The consequences would be dire if that happened.
Farmers right around the country have been working hard to try to remain profitable and productive in this difficult situation. There is no room for educated guesses with fertiliser prices as high as they are so technology and information have been our allies.
Using soil sampling and decision support tools, like SIX EASY STEPS in the sugarcane industry, to tailor and target a fertilising program is helping to make sure that every valuable dollar being spent is being put to good use.
You may have noticed that different crops are increasingly appearing in traditional sugarcane areas in rotation with the cane. These break or fallow crops are grown and then incorporated into the soil with the sugarcane trash to nourish and replenish the soil in a bid to reduce the demand for fertiliser.
The global shortage of urea eventually made the headlines when the transport industry sounded the alarm about a diesel exhaust fluid called AdBlue.
So, it came as a welcome relief to farmers and transport operators alike that moves have been made to boost our local, domestic capability in producing urea. Federal Government support for urea manufacturing at Gibson Island in Brisbane and at a new facility near Geraldton in WA is welcome.
It is my hope that being more self-reliant in this vital commodity as a country will stabilise prices, smooth out fluctuations and banish fertiliser bill shock from the farming ledger.