The chair of the National Fodder and Food Security Committee (NFFSC), Mike Magan, has urged farmers in Ireland to shop around for the best fertiliser prices. Mr. Magan stressed that this is a crucial time of the year for fertiliser use on farms and that some farmers may struggle this year, especially if they buy expensive feed in the back end. He added that farmers should not buy expensive fertilisers and should instead shop around to buy them as cheaply as possible. Mr. Magan, who is a dairy farmer from Co. Longford, said that it was up to the industry to provide fertilisers to farmers at the minimum margin that they can work with.
At a meeting of the NFFSC in Teagasc Oak Park, Co. Carlow, it was revealed that there are currently adequate stocks of fertiliser in the country, despite a decrease in the level of imports into the country. Sheila Nolan from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) said that 560,000t of fertiliser was brought into the country in January, compared to 680,000t during the same month in 2022. More recent data is awaited by the department from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). Nolan said that once the new National Fertiliser Database is operational, this information will be more readily available. Importers told the meeting that logistics and the lead-in time for getting fertiliser into the country is the problem and not availability. They added that farmers are buying supplies as they need them.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, asked the committee to reconvene due to concerns about fertiliser price and use, along with difficult weather conditions in recent weeks. Fertiliser applications have reduced by 25-30% in 2023, compared to the previous four years. The meeting heard that the use of nitrogen (N) fertiliser fell by 14% last year, potassium (K) was down by 26% and phosphorus (P) was back 24%. The impact of this reduction on overall soil fertility is yet to be determined. Grass growth for the year to date stands at 910kg dry matter (DM)/ha which is down by 25%, due to low growth rates in February, Teagasc said. Supplementation levels remain high on some farms where stock has been housed due to adverse grazing conditions. Silage stock were reported to be “very tight” on some farms.
Farming organisations have said that farmers are angry with merchants, co-ops, and importers and are holding back on buying fertiliser. They added that farmers are not prepared to be “stung” again with high prices. Work will be needed to rebuild the relationship and trust between farmers and the industry, the committee was told. Frank O’Mara, director of Teagasc, said that “the next two weeks are critical”. He encouraged farmers to apply fertiliser now as the cost-benefit is so good compared to buying feed in the winter. He added that the responsibility is on the trade to facilitate that and give farmers confidence to come and actually buy, knowing that the prices will not be €100-€200/t cheaper again in three weeks’ time. “That’s the kind of confidence that people need to feel,” he said.
In conclusion, it is essential that farmers shop around for the best fertiliser prices, especially during this critical time of the year. There are currently adequate stocks of fertiliser in the country, but the lead-in time for getting fertiliser into the country is the problem, not availability. Farmers are encouraged to apply fertiliser now as the cost-benefit is so good compared to buying feed in the winter. The industry needs to do more to facilitate farmers and give them the confidence to buy fertiliser at a fair price. Rebuilding the relationship and trust between farmers and the industry is crucial.