North American fertilizer demand is typically indexed to the relative price of corn, soybeans, and wheat as they account for roughly one-third of the planted acreage. As commodity prices increase relative to the price of fertilizer, application rates and demand increase.
The demand for micronutrients can be broken into two market categories: standard practice and luxury consumption. Some growers will provide all nutrient elements as a standard practice. They won’t reduce rates or eliminate nutrients from their budgets unless significant market factors or weather events force them to.
These growers provide a stable base for the micronutrient fertilizer manufacturers to service. Other growers will only apply micronutrients if they perceive that they can gain enough extra yield to pay for the additional cost. The decision on the luxury items is made at the time of application and based upon recent or expected changes in the market.
The fall of 2016 was especially difficult for some areas of the upper Midwest. Wet conditions delayed harvest and in turn, delayed fall fertilizer applications. In some situations, planned applications were moved to a pre-plant window in the spring. A brief spike in corn and wheat prices in March of 2017 brought the luxury consumers to the market. The effect of both factors increased demand for zinc and boron in the spring of 2017. Other factors affected the import of zinc and manganese sulfate from China, creating spot shortages in the face of this increased demand.
North American producers ramped up production and met the demand, proving that the laws of a supply and demand economy prevail.
The fall of 2017 saw a return to more normal patterns of harvest and fertilizer applications as part of the grower standard practices. Lower commodity prices have taken the luxury consumer back out of the market. Imports from China continue to be curtailed due to government regulations there.
Micronutrients represent a relatively small portion of the total fertilizer applied in North America. Less than 1 million tons are applied to approximately 350 million acres annually. But, many recognize that a balanced fertility program is required to maximize the production of the food, fiber, and shelter. All of the elements are essential for life.
The World Health Organization ranks the micronutrient elements iron and zinc among the top three nutrient deficiencies among children in the underdeveloped world. The most efficient way of introducing these elements in the diet is to insure that crops are bio fortified by providing a balanced nutritional program. This includes micronutrient fertilizers. As the demand for food, fiber, shelter, fuel, clean water, and clean air continue to grow, we expect the demand for micronutrient fertilizers produced in North America to grow at the same time.
The Micronutrient Manufacturers Association (MMA) was formed to improve business conditions for micronutrient manufacturers and formulators of products that provide essential micronutrients needed for plant growth, through research, education, and advocacy on behalf of the industry.