In the past three years, bulk diesel fuel has increased from .96 cents in April 2002 to $1.60 per gallon in January 2005, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service and the price has risen even more in recent months.
Anhydrous ammonia prices have risen from $250 per ton in April 2002 to $379 per ton in April 2004, according to the reporting service. While ammonia nitrate prices have increased by $68 per ton since 2002.
Not only is the price for nitrogen increasing but phosphorus and potassium costs are escalating as well.
"We've done quite a bit of research in the past three years to determine if our fertilizer recommendations we have been making are accurate and with very little exception they are," said Lloyd Murdock, an agronomist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "So if a guy wants to use economical rates of nitrogen, if he'll use our recommendations found in publication AGR-1, then he will be pretty close to the economical rates of nitrogen."
Some of the things now being studied, and guidelines established for, include tests that would allow farmers to determine how much nitrogen may be lost in a wet spring. Basal stalk nitrogen tests also can be used at the end of a growing season to determine if nitrogen rates applied for the season were excessive or not enough.
If you don't know if you've been overfertilizing or if you've cut back and you want to know if you are in the right ballpark, this will help give you that answer.
Soil testing can keep fertilizer costs down
Soil testing continues to be important to ensure proper potassium, phosphorus and PH levels. With increased cost of these fertilizers, farmers need to use the recommendations called for in their soil tests, otherwise, they may be overfertilizing. It is also important to aim for the medium level for these two nutrients rather than high level, for the most economical outcome.
Use of manure and poultry litter also is likely to increase as the cost of litter is a good buy compared to fertilizer, depending on availability in an area. If a farmer has good, easy access to litter, it can be a good choice. It not only adds nutrients to the soil but also helps build up organic materials and increases yields as a result.
High fuel costs have farmers re-evaluating their tillage practices. If you don't need tillage then it is costing time and money. High fuel costs probably will reduce tillage but there are some soil types that need tillage. He needs to look at crops he's planting and the soils he's planting in. If you are in poorly-drained soils, then you probably need some tillage, but if you are not on poorly-drained soils then you probably don't need tillage.
Some producers do deep tillage every other year or so and that also needs to be reviewed.
To learn more about soil testing, fertilizer rates and soil compaction, contact the Boyle County Extension Service office.