No one needs to tell this audience what effect the global supply chain issues and oil/petroleum pricing has done on the price and availability of conventional fertilizers. According to CNBC, Russia and Ukraine combine to produce 28% of the world’s urea and ammonium nitrate. Brent Crude Oil was trading at $110.30 per barrel at the time of this writing (May 18, 2022). The combination of the war in Ukraine, high oil prices, and the disruption in production and distribution has put tremendous pressure on the pricing and availability of fertilizers that are derived from oil and natural gas production.

This isn’t exactly news at this point, but it begs the question, “How long will this last, and what are the alternatives?” As far as the duration and depth of the pricing and supply chain issues, no one seems to have any clear answer to when it will ease up, let alone get back to some sense of normality. Alternatives just might be right under our nose, pun completely intended.

Alternatives Smell Much Sweeter than Before

Natural or organic fertilizers are obviously not new. The use of animal manures; mainly cattle, chicken, and swine have been around for a very long time. Their use began to wane in the post-WWII era as farming became more conventional and the push for efficiencies increased. Manures at that time were unwieldy, a bit cumbersome, unpleasant, and perhaps expensive to transport compared to the conventional alternatives.

Huge strides have been made in recent years regarding the handling, processing, and delivery of manure and compost products. Environmental and food safety concerns along with organizations like Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have developed guidelines to encourage producers to adhere to guidelines and best management practices (BMPs) that help make organic fertilizer production a modern and safe component of the fertilizer industry. Pricing for many was an obstacle that now may be worth a second look.

Farmers who are growing for the organic marketplace perhaps have had limited options as to which products to use for fertility. There are specific compliance regulations and food and safety protocols that must be adhered to, and the organic food segment has factored pricing to comply with the finished product. Those who are not growing for that “market” have long considered organics too expensive to be a viable fertility alternative.

That might have changed with the price of oil and the hiccup in the world’s supply chain along with the war in Ukraine. According to a recent article by Bloomberg, “Fertilizer Shortages Finally Give Dung a Chance,” farmers across the country are now not only considering manure fertilizers they are procuring them in states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois at increases of 100% over 2021. As of this writing, on May 12, 2022, the price from a major retailer for UN 32 was $790 per ton and Urea $1,000. For comparison, a ton of unscreened dehydrated chicken manure is $65 per ton. Doing the math for the value per pound of Nitrogen only, Urea and UN are over $1.17 per pound of Nitrogen. One pound of Nitrogen from chicken manure (unscreened, unpasteurized) is .81 per pound and screened is about 1.25. This pricing takes only the value of Nitrogen into consideration which also limits the value of using organic products. You would also receive 40 pounds of Phosphorus and Potassium per ton along with Ca (calcium) and microbes that conventional fertilizers will not provide. One other thing to consider about using organic material, especially here in the desert: according to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) an increase of organic material by 1% can increase the soil’s water holding capacity by as much as 20,000 gallons per acre (may vary depending on exact soil type). In our region and in this time of drought, this alone might make increasing your organic use worth a second look.

If you’re feeling the pinch of the global supply chain and petroleum situation, then perhaps following your nose to the local source of organic fertilizer might lead you to a viable alternative you’ve been smelling but not considering for years. And finally, today’s looming fertilizer shortages bring home the importance of animal agriculture, now more than ever.