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Running behind on planting, some growers now face tight fertilizer supplies

MANDAN, N.D. -- "Wet, wet, wet!" And don't forget cold. That's how Clem Nelson, owner of Mandan (N.D.) Fertilizer, describes the 2011 planting season. The business serves the Mandan area, but also has customers as far away as Flasher, N.D., and s...

Fertilizer supplies
Bill Fisher (right) of Solen, N.D., started planting wheat on May 3, and has moved forward with weather interruptions. Here, he finishes fertilizer paperwork with Clem Nelson, owner of Mandan Fertilizer of rural Mandan, N.D. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

MANDAN, N.D. -- "Wet, wet, wet!"

And don't forget cold.

That's how Clem Nelson, owner of Mandan (N.D.) Fertilizer, describes the 2011 planting season. The business serves the Mandan area, but also has customers as far away as Flasher, N.D., and some north of Bismarck, N.D. The first date someone picked up fertilizer was April 13.

"It's been spotty," Nelson says, estimating some farmers were about 50 percent done by May 17, but it depends on where land is and whether it's lower ground. He's gone through all of the fertilizer orders that were booked and prepaid, and now he's scrambling to find urea nitrogen, and the supply is getting tight.

Nelson says about 90 percent of his business is dry fertilizer. He sells anhydrous only to pre-paid customers. The business only has a few nurse tanks.

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"I'm hearing that in the northern part of South Dakota things are tight," Nelson says of nitrogen fertiilizer supplies. "If you didn't have it prepaid, they're cutting people off because they're afraid their shipments won't show up on time. Every year they threaten shortages, and there is one now."

He says the trouble seems to be high water on the Mississippi River, which has affected the pace of unloading barges.

By the first week in May last year, half of the crops in the region had been planted, Nelson says.

"There are guys just getting started," he says.

The Mandan Fertilizer plant has peaked out at 300 tons per day on occasion, but this year, things had been moving at a clip of 200 tons per day, ahead of a more typical 150 tons for this time of year. With cold, overcast conditions, there's been poor drying.

"And then the dang wind blows like crazy, but it's coming from the direction that'll cause more rain," he says.

Bill Fisher of Solen, N.D., one of Nelson's customers, is among those farthest along, but he still feels behind. Nelson farms about 9,000 acres in the Solen, Mandan and Bismarck areas, working with his sons, Billy and Brad. The family had started planting wheat by May 4, but it's been tough to catch up.

All of the corn was finally planted on May 17. But more than half of the wheat still was unseeded, and all of the sunflowers -- about 4,000 acres in all.

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"We're rolling now, but it's been so wet," Fisher says.

Rain was in the forecast for the next six days, so he was concerned.

"Slow," Fisher says, summing it all up.

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