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How Russia's war in Ukraine is driving up fertilizer prices for Quad Cities farmers

One Iowa farmer saw his nitrogen prices double, while phosphorous and potash prices increased by roughly 23%, resulting in more than $100,000 in increased costs.

LONG GROVE, Iowa — The 2022 planting season is already the latest Long Grove farmer Joe Dierickx can remember. For the first time in 32 years, the weather prevented him from getting any seeds in the ground in April. 

However, it's not the only headache he's dealing with this year. 

Although crop prices are the highest they've been in years, the war in Ukraine is driving up the cost of fertilizer and the raw materials it's made from.

Russia is one of the world's leading exporters of fertilizer and while the U.S. doesn't buy most of its fertilizer from Russia, other countries that do are now shopping at American suppliers, hiking up prices and demand.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fertilizer accounts for more than a third of operating costs for wheat and corn farmers. 

"In our operation, the cost of nitrogen has probably went up between $30 and $40 an acre — and that's just nitrogen," Dierickx said. Along with his brother, Paul, Dierickx farms roughly 1,700 acres in Iowa's Clinton and Scott Counties. 

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He says when it comes to fertilizer, the already growing prices of nitrogen, phosphorus and potash have all skyrocketed over the past year, resulting in more than $100,000 in increased costs. 

"Fertilizer's been a little bit scarce so the prices went up. So we're trying to use that very judiciously this year — there's no wasting of fertilizer going on," he laughed. 

The brothers try to use about 175 pounds of nitrogen per acre of corn. The price of that product, Dierickx says, doubled since this time last year. Phosphorus and potash prices rose about 23 percent. 

Dierickx estimates it cost roughly $147,000 to fertilize his corn last year. This year, that price jumped up to $245,000. Likewise, soybean fertilizers rose from $55,000 to about $68,000. 

Like most farmers, he locked in his fertilizer prices months ago, but they've only continued to increase. Now, most of the concerns are focused on next year's planting season. 

"The increase in fertilizer prices have affected us already. We have a 50% increase put into this crop," Dierickx said. "Next year's crop is what everybody is really worried about, is if it goes up 50% again. Will that be profitable or not." 

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And with the war showing no signs of stopping, it's unclear how long fertilizer prices will remain high. 

"Anything that happens anyplace in the world affects us right here in Long Grove, Iowa, or DeWitt, Iowa, or Davenport, Iowa. I mean, it's happening somewhere else and it affects us here," Dierickx said. 

However, he says there is a silver lining. Corn and soybean prices are some of the highest in years, leading to a higher profit for farmers. Still, Dierickx says those revenues aren't stretching as far as they would have a decade ago. 

"Our costs have went up, but also our income is projected to go up if we can grow a normal crop. So we're hoping to grow a normal crop, we're hoping to be able to make some money, but 10 years ago, with the prices that we have, we would be looking at a lot more revenue per acre and a lot more profit per acre," Dierickx said. 

Still, he says it's not time to panic just yet. 

"Don't worry about the farmers right now. Income wise, I think we'll be fine if we grow a good crop," Dierickx said. "We haven't started the year quite the way I would have scripted it, but I still have high hopes that things will go good." 

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