BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (DTN) — Argentina’s soil fertility is degrading because farmers do not apply enough fertilizer as needed. This problem will affect productivity in the future; in the meantime, this indicates a potential fertilizer market in the country.
“About 15% of wheat and corn and 45% of soybean production in Argentina comes without any use of fertilizer,” said Adres Grasso, technical adviser of Fertilizar Asociacion Civil of Argentina. “Our farmers know the technology; this is just what the farmers want to do to optimize their profit.”
Argentina’s farming areas have good soil fertility, like in the U.S. Corn Belt. Argentine farmers apply less fertilizer and still have reasonable production, compared to surrounding countries, including Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. In those other countries, soil fertility is low and farmers need to apply a lot of fertilizer to grow crops.
“Argentina’s fertilizer market is now 3.5 million (metric) tons, but we really need more than 5 mmt of fertilizer,” said Grasso. He said crops are using more soil fertility than what farmers are adding.
More than half of the farmland is rented in Argentina; most farmers rent the land for only one year. This leads farmers to abuse the rented land without applying enough fertilizer. If they apply fertilizer, they know it will last several years. Because they aren’t long-term renters, this does not encourage them to follow long-term farming practices with their fertilizer.
SHORT-TERM LAND RENTAL
Two things influence land owners to not rent their land for longer terms.
First, there’s currency depreciation. The U.S. dollar to Argentina peso increased to a ratio of one to 19 recently, from one to four in 2010.
Secondly, there’s also a farm policy change affecting them. The government changed the taxing system for farming products. There are no export taxes for wheat and corn, but soybean’s export tax is more than 30%. The government will lower the soybean export tax to 18% in the next two years.
TYPES OF FERTILIZER USED
Argentina’s farmers apply mostly nitrogen and phosphate, but almost no potash — Argentina soil is rich in potash so far. The country can produce most of the nitrogen fertilizer it needs, while importing its phosphate.
“Our plant can produce 1.2 mmt of urea in our fertilizer plant here; 10% of the production are exported to Brazil and Uruguay,” said Federico Roemer, fertilizer category manager of YPF, a chemical company in Argentina.
YPF and Agrium have a joint venture — Profertil — located in Bahia Blanca. This is the only urea-producing plant in the country.
“Our farmers also consume close to 1.2 mmt of phosphate fertilizer every year, which mostly imported,” said Roemer.
Argentina imports 500,000 metric tons of MAP, 250,000 mt of DAP and 90,000 mt of triple superphosphate (TSP). Bunge produces 300,000 mt of single superphosphate (SSP) in Argentina, but the raw materials are all imported.
Most of the phosphate fertilizers are imported from EU and Russia.
Fertilizers are mostly distributed by trading companies, because they can also buy grain from farmers. “Farmers like to pay (for) fertilizer by grain, not cash, because they will only need to pay half of the tax by doing (it) that way. If they buy fertilizer by cash, they need to pay tax for both selling grain and buying fertilizer,” said Roemer.
“We (YPF) are also competitive in the market because we can sell not only fertilizer, but also diesel, seed and other products to farmers,” said Roemer. “Actually, we are more strong in diesel than fertilizer. However, we have to sell the grain to trading companies, because we do not have grain business.”
He noted the farmers will need a lot more fertilizer.
“In 2025, (the) agriculture industry will need 6 mmt of fertilizers, two times as we need now, as crops will consume more soil fertility, but not enough nutrition (is) added to the soil,” said Roemer. “Soil fertility balance is negative now.”