By TIM ALEXANDER
WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Fertilizer revenue for the nation’s top 100 ag retailers increased by 53 percent in 2002, creating record corporate profits for companies and budget dilemmas for farmers and input retailers. The record increase in prices was the conclusion of a recent survey of the nation’s top retailers, which was limited to independent dealerships and cooperatives that offer fertilizer, crop protection, seed and custom application services.
2022 U.S. revenue for agricultural fertilizers totaled $23.4 billion during the year, participants disclosed. This marked a 53 percent increase from the 2021 category sales total of $15.3 billion, the CROPLIFE 100 survey revealed. However, looking just at the large numbers put up by the fertilizer category doesn’t tell the entire story, according to CROPLIFE’s Eric Sfiligoj.
“As many market observers are sure to point out, much of the talk during 2022 centered around the fact that crop nutrients prices from suppliers were double (or sometimes triple) what they were during 2021 as supply chain disruptions and global conflicts such as the Russia-Ukraine war messed with the availability of many macronutrients throughout the entire 2022 growing season,” said Sfiligoj.
“By extension, this meant ag retailers were paying out more money to purchase various fertilizers before being able to turn around and sell them to their grower-customers. Surely, they will say, this explains the huge revenue increases for the fertilizer category.”
Despite the increased costs to fertilizer retailers, most managed to finish in the black in fiscal year 2022. In all, 77 percent of the CROPLIFE survey respondents said that their profitability level went up more than five percent. Another 15 percent reported that their profit level was the same as in 2021. Just eight percent reported seeing profits decline between 2021 and 2022. In total, the top 10 U.S. companies in fertilizer revenue generated $16.8 billion during 2022, the survey indicated.
An overview of world fertilizer markets shows that international companies also reaped record profits in 2021-2022, particularly in the global south. According to ChemAnalyst News, this is a result of global corporations taking advantage of their market power to gain huge profits. The analysis, issued in late January, projected nine of the biggest international fertilizer companies would realize a record $57 billion in profits during 2021-2022.
Worldwide fertilizer profits were projected at an astronomical $84 billion for the period, or over 30 times what U.S. farmers are expected to pay for fertilizer imports during 2022 ($1.9 billion).
According to ChemAnalyst News, only four companies control 33 percent of the global $200 billion fertilizer market. One company, Illinois-based CF Fertilizers, currently holds a monopoly over the UK’s market. Another company, Mosaic, is estimated to have 90 percent control over the US’s Phosphate fertilizer production.
The National Farmers’ Union has voiced concern over CF Fertilizers’ dominating presence in their country. As far back as September 2021, the NFU urged congressional leaders and the Biden administration to take concrete steps to curtail consolidation in agriculture.
A June 2023 report by WUSF Public Media said that Canadian-owned Nutrien Ltd., the world’s leading producer of potash fertilizer, saw profits increase by 1,575 percent between 2020 and 2022 to $7.7 billion. Tampa-based The Mosaic Co., one of the largest U.S. producers of potash and phosphate fertilizer, saw $3.6 billion in net earnings in 2022, a 438 percent increase from 2020. CF Industries made $3.2 billion in 2022, a 955 percent increase from 2020, according to the WUSF report.
In early October 2022 the United Nations warned that without action to reduce fertilizer prices, a global food shortage may occur. The U.N. warned that rising fertilizer costs are also putting pressure on government reserves and budgets, while leaving them unable to keep up with their current subsidies for the product.
The good news for U.S. farmers is that fertilizer prices in all categories have decreased in recent months. Anhydrous ammonia prices shrank from $1,434 per ton on Nov. 3, 2022 to $1,237 per on Feb. 23 – a decline of $197 per ton or nearly 14 percent.
As of June 1, Illinois farmers paid an average of $1,115.83 per ton for anhydrous ammonia, $623.33 for urea, $531.64 for liquid nitrogen and $616.92 for potash, according to USDA’s recent Illinois Production Cost report.