Brad Stabler manages 12 locations for Columbia Grain International, LLC., including eight elevators and four agronomy centers, and works from the company’s Arvilla elevator location, about 22 miles west of Grand Forks.
“Our fertilizer is all here and our chemical is probably 90% here,” Stabler says. The materials come into a major depot at Arvilla and then are distributed through CGI locations in Crookston, Minn., Cummings, N.D., or wherever it’s needed.
Brad Stabler, business execution manager for North Dakota and Minnesota, locations for Columbia Grain International, LLC., manages 12 locations including eight elevators and four agronomy centers. He works from the company’s Arvilla, N.D., elevator location. Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
About 70% of what CGI sells in the region are already sold to farmers. The 30% balance is partly related to farmers not knowing what they’re going to plant, “and some not knowing how much they’re going to get planted.”
Stabler says that factor is also a worry for his company. Anything not sold this year must be cared for and carried over by the company. One of the risks there is if the price should go down.
Stabler believes his competitors in the region are similarly prepared.
The Arvilla, N.D., site for Columbia Grain International LLC includes a (pitched) warehouse that holds 35,000 tons of dry fertilizers, stored in great bins. The main products are “11-52” or nitrogen and phosphorus; ammonium sulphate (nitrogen and sulfur) and potash (potassium) and urea (nitrogen). Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The Arvilla site includes a warehouse that holds 35,000 tons of dry fertilizers, stored in great bins. The main ones are “11-52” or nitrogen and phosphorus; ammonium sulphate (nitrogen and sulfur) and potash (potassium) and urea (nitrogen). It is relatively large in the region, but there are large sites every 40 to 50 miles.
Urea fertilizer (“NPK 46-0-0”) is the most common nitrogen fertilizer used for crops in region served by Columbia Grain International LLC. The material is often spread with pull-type or self-propelled spreaders. Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The process of gathering inputs starts in the spring and goes to the next spring. Most fertilizers come from manufacturing plants in the U.S. or into New Orleans from Morocco or other Middle East origins, much of which comes up the Mississippi River.
“Once the Mississippi starts to flood you can’t get barges to St. Louis, Mo., or to Minneapolis. If you can’t get barge to St. Louis, you can’t load trains at St. Louis and you can’t load semis out of the Twin Cities.”
A large warehouse at the Columbia Grain International LLC site in Arvilla, N.D., is stocked with millions of dollars in crop protectant chemicals and fertilizers farmers will need to plant the 2020 crop in a few weeks. Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
CGI’s fertilizer largely comes from St. Louis. Minneapolis experiences the flooding first, because of the southward flow of the river.
Stabler understands there won’t be any fertilizer available in the Twin Cities for shipping out on semis. “Sometimes you go down to the Cities and bring fertilizer back,” he says. This year there won’t be any there.”
Crop protectant chemicals and fertilizers farmers will need to plant the 2020 crop in a few weeks. Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Retailers that rely on Minneapolis availability will have to rely on companies like CGI, that already have supplies in place. Stabler says some retailers that are closer to the Cities — perhaps farmers in the St. Cloud, Minn., and east — might rely on Minneapolis supplies rather than building their own large warehouses. He thinks only 20% to 30% of retailers in the region may have such a situation, but that number is declining.
“We’ve gone through this two years in a row so most everybody has their fertilizer out here, for this year,” Stabler says.”They’ll either run out or get it somewhere else.”
Large blue tanks are filled with “starter” fertilizers farmers will use to get crops growing when planting commences in a few short weeks in the northern plains. Photo taken March 17, 2020, in Arvilla, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
The COVID-19 pandemic situation isn’t likely to cause disruptions in farm chemicals — at least not this year, Stabler says. Most generic versions of commonly used chemicals — including glyphosate and clethodim — are made in China, but that should already be made and shipped to the United States for 2020 production.
“Next year might be a different deal,” he says, indicating that it could have an impact on prices. Most of what U.S. farmers use are the generic versions.