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Most Minnesota, Dakota farmers set for 2022 input needs

Sisseton, South Dakota, farmers Gary Hanson and his son, Nick, talk about how their local co-op urged them to purchase fertilizer needs last November. A large cooperative based at Wheaton, Minnesota, says more farmers bought crop nutrients last year for the 2022 crop year.

A farmer in his 40s sits and replaces black "firming wheels" on a green-and-yellow John Deere planter.
Cody Hanson of Sisseton, South Dakota, changes the seedbed “firming wheels” on a corn planter on March 28. 2022. He and his father, Gary Hanson, farm together and are happy they pre-purchased fertilizer last fall, as prices have increased to triple what they were for the 2021 crop. Photo taken March 28, 2022, at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

SISSETON, South Dakota — Farmers and fertilizer suppliers seem to be in generally good situations for feeding the 2022 crop in northeast South Dakota and western Minnesota, despite a tripling in fertilizer costs, according to farmers and ag suppliers.

A loader (left) puts silage and feed components into a trailer, pulled by a John Deere green and yellow tractor at right.
Cody Hanson, 47, left, on March 30, 2022, fills a feeding wagon run by his father, Gary Hanson, 72, doing feeding chores at their 300-cow beef operation north of Sisseton, South Dakota. The Hansons were getting ready to start calving and expect to start planting their 2,500 crop acres in a few weeks.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Gary Hanson, 72, and his son, Cody, 47, at Sisseton raise corn, soybeans and a little wheat on 2,500 acres. They bought their farm inputs — fertilizer and chemical — last fall.

Their local Border States Cooperative at Sisseton guaranteed 95% of their last year’s use, with a possibility of getting “all we want” as the season unfolds, Gary said.

A farmer in a cap in his tractor cab, stops for a photo.
Gary Hanson, 72, farms with a son, Cody, 47, just north of Sisseton, South Dakota. The former dairyman and former Democratic state legislator said he and many farmers last fall “pre-purchased” fertilizer for their 2022 needs. His Border States Cooperative initially allowed patrons to purchase 95% of the levels they used in 2021. Photo taken March 30, 2022, at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“We kinda got on the ‘old price’ scale, and capitalized on the new pricing of the commodities, got high,” Gary said at the end of March 2022. “This year we’re set pretty well.”

Fertilizer was about $200 a ton higher than in 2021, but the seed increased about 10% from the previous year.

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Black Angus beef cows chew on corn silage feed in a wintry March scene as the Hanson farm heads into spring calving season.
Gary and Cody Hanson of Sisseton, S.D., farm about 2,500 acres, but also have a beef operation with about 300 cows, that were just getting into calving in early April 2022. Photo taken March 30, 2022, at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

On top of that, the Hansons farm in the area of Roberts and Grant counties, which are the wettest two counties in the state. They got rain last fall, after a drought.

“The rain came just at the right time,” he said.

The Hansons rutted some of the fields but had good crops. This winter, their snow was 17 inches, ahead of averages.

A farmer in his 40s pauses while doing mechanical preparation on a corn planter for the 2022 cropping season.
Cody Hanson, 47, says he was shocked about how fast fertilizer prices jumped last fall. He and his father, Gary, pre-paid and expect a profitable 2022 crop year, but Cody is concerned about 2023 and beyond. Photo taken March 28, 2022, at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Gary farmed with his father and a brother on a dairy, grain and cattle operation. Since the late 1980s, the family dropped the dairy but increased to 300 beef cows.

Cody joined the farm in 1995 after studying two years at South Dakota State University. The Hansons have 2,500 acres of grain farming.

A mailbox with the name "Gary Hanson" stands at the entrance to a farmstead that has bins and cattle buildings, indicative of a farm that is diversified with livestock and corn and soybean production.
The Gary and Cody Hanson farm is diversified with 2,500 acres of cropland and a 300-cow beef operation. This year the father and son are happy they purchased their 2022 fertilizer needs late last fall. Photo taken March 30, 2022, at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

On top of that, Gary spent 12 years in the state Legislature — a Democrat serving on the agriculture committees in both the House and the Senate through 2011. Ten years ago, he started selling farm real estate. (Local land values peaked in the area about five years ago at about $10,300 per acre. That’s backed off to $6,500 to $7,000 per acre.)

Cody said he was surprised at how fertilizer prices “spiked so high, so fast,” last fall. He said he’d never had to pre-pay for fertilizer before, and the concern about whether it would be available was the most persuasive.

A green highway sign at New Effington, South Dakota, is flanked by a large fertilizer plant owned by Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator system, headquartered at Wheaton, Minnesota.
The Wheaton Dumont Elevator system, based in Wheaton, Minnesota, built a 6,000-ton agronomy facility at New Effington, South Dakota, in 2019. About 80% of the larger co-op’s 1,200 farmers pre-purchased fertilizer last summer and fall. About 90% of the co-op’s fertilizer buyers hire the co-op to apply it. Photo taken March 30, 2022.
Mikkel Pates

“He told us if you don’t buy it this fall, you might not get it next spring. Kinda pushed into buying in the fall, I guess,” he said.

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His farming friends say they bought most, if not all, of what they needed.

Some predicted price increases in fuel, but the Hansons didn’t purchase that in advance.

“I don’t know how high it’s going to go, and if it’s available for the following year. That’s kind of what I’m wondering about,” Cody said.

80% pre-pays

A face photo of a smiling grain elevator general manager.
Philip Deal is general manager for Wheaton Dumont Cooperative Elevator.
Courtesy / Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator.

The Hansons’ pre-paid situation is not unusual, according to Philip Deal, general manager of the Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator, based in Wheaton, Minnesota.

His Wheaton-Dumont co-op deals with 1,200 farmer-patrons with 15 grain handling locations and five agronomy locations in the tri-state intersection. The co-op applies the fertilizer for 90% of its sales.

Bins in a Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator agronomy center at New Effington, South Dakota, are filled are filled with Urea nitrogen, and other dry fertilizers to be applied soon for the 2022 crop.
A 6,000-ton fertilizer warehouse at New Effington, South Dakota, has enough product on hand to serve area farmers with only one refilling during the season, according to agronomy officials at Wheaton Dumont Elevator Cooperative, based in Wheaton, Minnesota. Photo taken March 30, 2022, at New Effington, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
A face photo of a smiling man in a gray sweatshirt.
Kevin Grimes is agronomy manager for Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator.
Courtesy / Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator

Kevin Grimes, Wheaton-Dumont’s agronomy division manager, said roughly 75% to 80% of the company’s farmers this year “pre-paid” for their 2022 fertilizer needs. That’s up from about 60% to 65% in previous years.

Deal and Grimes said the timing of pre-paid arrangements came in “waves” — first July 2021 and then in November-December. When farmers started those deals it was for typical reasons — often managing taxes. Initially, the prices for the fertilizer were 25% from the previous year’s price levels.

By October 2021, fertilizer prices had doubled.

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By April 2022 they’d roughly tripled what they were for the 2021 crop.
Deal said the producers who pre-pay typically are the same ones year after year. The majority who buy very early typically purchase all of their expected needs.

“This time, it really, really paid off for them,” Deal said.

White fertilizer "tender" trucks are flanked by a large, white, dry fertilizer warehouse owned by Wheaton Dumont  Cooperative Elevator. The facility was built in 2019.
“Tender trucks” await spring’s work at the New Effington, South Dakota, fertilizer and agronomy site for the Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator system. The fertilizer warehouse, left, holds 6,000-tons of fertilizer that is elevated into bins, weighed according to customer needs, and loaded into the trucks for delivery to the field. Photo taken March 30, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The 20% who didn’t pre-pay for fertilizer early tended to be the same ones who usually don’t. Deal said he’s seen only a few instances in his career where waiting to make fertilizer purchase in-season ended up costing the farmer less. Unlike some competitors, Wheaton-Dumont co-op didn’t limit farmers in their purchases.

On the way

Grimes said the co-op’s five fertilizer plants are full — including Dumont, Minnesota, at 10,000 tons, and New Effington, South Dakota, with 6,000 tons. They’ll be able to handle customers with only one refill of the inventory. Supplies for that refill are already en route on barge, rail and trucks.

“Next year is at greater risk,” Grimes said, noting increased global unrest.

041122.AG.FertilizerAvailabilityPrice13
Crop fertilizer and input application equipment stands at the ready for 2022 crop work at the Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator facility at New Effington, South Dakota, a 6,000-ton facility. Photo taken March 30, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Farmer counter-moves to the higher fertilizer prices are mixed — some are planting a little more corn, some are planting more soybeans which require less fertilizer.

The story on farm chemical purchases is similar.

A mixing bin tower for a dry fertilizer plant at New Effington, South Dakota, carries the logo of the Wheaton Dumont Cooperative Elevator that owns it. The white tower stands against a white, cold March sky.
The Wheaton-Dumont Cooperative Elevator system is based in Wheaton, Minnesota, but has five fertilizer and agronomy supply centers, including a 6,000-ton fertilizer capacity site just south of New Effington, South Dakota. Photo taken March 30, 2022.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

About 50% of farmers paid for their herbicides early, up from about 30% in a more typical year. Some of this was because of heavy promotion by manufacturers in advertisements. Chemistry prices increased from last year roughly 30%.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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