Some US Farms Are So Dry the Dirt Is Repelling Fertilizer

Source: By Dominic Carey, Bloomberg • Posted: Sunday, October 30, 2022

Grains for 2023 harvest are at risk as dry conditions expand Winter wheat is sprouting up at a slower-than-average pace

A wheat field in Culver, Kansas.

A wheat field in Culver, Kansas. Photographer: Arin Yoon/Bloomberg

Drought is rapidly expanding across America’s crop belt, making it so dry that in some grain fields fertilizer is evaporating from the soil and plants are struggling to grow.

Almost three-quarters of US farmland for winter wheat is in moderate to intense drought, the highest since at least 2000, according to government data. Other crop regions are in similarly bad shape, with the country’s corn belt at 70%.

“The wheat belt is so dry you can’t fertilize” for the best possible crop, said Gary Millershaski, chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Wheat farmers seeding crops now — or corn growers applying nutrients to help the soil ahead of spring planting — aren’t going to invest in fall fertilizer application if a lot of it is going to evaporate and disappear, Gary Millershaski, chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission.

Millershaski, who farms wheat and corn in the severely drought-struck southwestern part of Kansas, said he’s planting 4,000 acres of winter wheat this year and will be happy if he gets 1,500. .

Farmers are currently busy finishing up planting winter wheat — a variety that typically comes up from the ground before going dormant during the coldest months and then resuming growth as temperatures warm. But lack of moisture could hinder or even prevent some plants from emerging until spring, putting yields at significant risk.

The rate of emerged plants is already trailing the average pace even though planting has gone as planned, said Mark Nelson, director of commodities at the Kansas Farm Bureau.

While spring fertilizer applications are seen as more critical, some farmers routinely rely on early application to help soil conditions. Growers will need to be extra careful this year to test their fields to see how much fertilizer is actually needed.

“It’s fair to say we are concerned about fertilizer applications in the dry soils and how effective they are going to be,” said Nelson.

— With assistance by Brian K Sullivan

(Updates with comment in fourth paragraph.)