Rising fertiliser prices may prompt French farmers to switch grain crops

Surging prices and tight supply of fertilisers have swelled grain farmers' costs and could prompt some to switch from maize to less fertiliser-reliant crops next spring, farm office FranceAgriMer said on Wednesday.

A French farmer sows winter barley at sunset in Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France, on October 3, 2019.
A French farmer sows winter barley at sunset in Tilloy-lez-Cambrai, France, on October 3, 2019. © Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

Prices of natural gas, a key input for nitrogen-based fertilisers, have risen sharply around the globe against a backdrop of post-pandemic demand increases, low inventories and tighter than usual gas supplies from Russia.

That has sent fertiliser prices soaring and also curtailed supply as some manufacturers struggle to contend with mounting gas costs.

"The real worry is availability. We already have some supply problems today and, whatever the price, there is no guarantee that we will have some in the spring," said farmer Benoit Pietrement, who is also head of FranceAgriMer's grain committee.

France is the European Union's largest grain grower and exporter.

Rapeseed sowing is over in France and it would be too late for farmers to change their mind on winter grains such as wheat, which is now being sown, but there could be an issue with spring crops.

"Some farmers may decide to limit crops that need a lot of nitrogen, like maize, and turn to less demanding ones like spring barley or sunflower seed," Pietrement said.

Fertiliser prices have more than trebled over the past year, which bring costs for farmers to between 300 euros ($346) and 350 euros per hectare of cereal, compared with about 150 euros per hectare spent currently.

"The impact on growers will be violent," Pietrement added.


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