The rolling crises of the past few years rendered visible so many vital commodities that plenty of us never gave much thought — nickel, silicon chips, lumber. The latest entrant into this camp: Fertilizer. Skyrocketing fertilizer costs — like those made from nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) — are driving up food prices and, worse, threatening food security around the globe.
Prices for NPK were up 125% in January from a year before, and rose another 17% from the beginning of the year to March, according to data compiled by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The looming European ban on Russian natural gas (a critical component in manufacturing some fertilizers) could worsen the situation. “We’re in a dire situation right now,” said Svein Tore Holsether, the CEO of fertilizer maker Yara International, at a seminar hosted by IFPRI this week.
If farmers use less fertilizer, they can’t produce as many crops — and that raises the specter of “malnutrition, political unrest and, ultimately, the otherwise avoidable loss of human life,” Bloomberg reported. The Fertilizer supply uncertainty has demand for manure skyrocketing.
Industry consultant Allen Kampschnieder, who works for Nebraska-based Nutrient Advisors, said cattle feeders selling waste are sold out for 2022. “We’ve got waiting lists,” he said.
China – which supplies 24% of the world’s phosphates, 13% of nitrogen and 2% potash – halted fertilizer exports this past summer. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted trading in the Black sea, putting the global food supply in peril generally (for instance, the wheat disruption). Russia and its ally Belarus also produce a lot of fertilizer. In 2020, Russia provided 14% of urea (a nitrogen fertilizer), and, with Belarus, 41% of potash, a potassium fertilizer. Of note: Fertilizer is a heavily traded product, meaning most countries — even the ones making lots of food — import their supply.
Bird Flu Outbreak Nears Worst Ever in U.S. With 37 Million Animals Dead
A bird flu virus that’s sweeping across the U.S. is rapidly becoming the country’s worst outbreak, having already killed over 37 million chickens and turkeys, with more deaths expected through next month as farmers perform mass culls.
Under guidance of the federal government, farms must destroy entire commercial flocks if just one bird tests positive for the virus, to stop the spread. That’s leading to distressing scenes across rural America. In Iowa, millions of animals in vast barns are suffocated in high temperatures or with poisonous foam. In Wisconsin, lines of dump trucks have taken days to collect masses of bird carcasses and pile them in unused fields. Neighbors live with the stench of the decaying birds.
The crisis is hurting egg-laying hens and turkeys the most, with the disease largely being propagated by migrating wild birds that swarm above farms and leave droppings that get tracked into poultry houses. That’s probably how the virus contaminated egg operations in Iowa, which produce liquid and powdered eggs that go into restaurant omelets or boxed cake mixes. Further north under the same migration paths lie Minnesota’s turkey farms, which supply everything from deli meats for submarine sandwiches to whole birds for the holidays.
Prices for such products are soaring to records, adding to the fastest pace of U.S. inflation in four decades. The supply deficits triggered by the flu also come as world food prices reach new highs. From the war in Ukraine to adverse weather for crops, it’s all throwing supply chains into turmoil and compounding the crisis that’s pushed millions of people into hunger since the start of the pandemic.