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Farmers worry for incoming seed season as fertilizer costs soar

Farmers across the Atlantic region say their operating costs have increased significantly with fertilizer imports from Russia under sanction, and some are looking for alternatives. 

“We’re pretty frustrated with the whole thing this year, it’s really stressful,” said Brian Adams, owner of Hilldale Potato Inc., in New Denmark, near Grand Falls. 

Adams said he paid about $700 per tonne of fertilizer last year and is being quoted about $1,300 per tonne this year. 

“All costs are up this year, machine repairs, fertilizer or sprays,” he said. “It’s going to bring our cost of production up dramatically.” 

Adams estimates that his operating costs overall will increase by over 60 per cent this year.  

  Reliance on imports 

The Atlantic provinces rely heavily on fertilizer imports from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. 

Fertilizer Canada CEO Karen Proud said about 85 to 90 per cent of all nitrogen fertilizers used in the eastern provinces come from Russia. 

Sanctions currently imposed on Russia have hindered the availability of these materials, including potash, nitrogen and phosphorus across Canada, she said.

“We were already facing a pretty tight season with fertilizer supply, this has just exacerbated that,” said Proud.

Farmers across the country are desperately trying to source fertilizer supply elsewhere, she said.

farmers worry for incoming seed season as fertilizer costs soar
Fertilizer Canada CEO Karen Proud said fertilizer supply was already tight for the season prior to imposed sanctions. (Submitted by Fertilizer Canada )

“We’re concerned given that we’re only four to six weeks away from seeding season”. 

Proud said about 30 to 40 shipments of fertilizer were already en route to Canada when the sanctions were imposed on Russia. 

But only those that had already reached Canadian waters were allowed to dock and the rest had a more dire fate. 

“Those would now be subject to the sanctions and either wouldn’t be able to arrive at all or, if they did, would have the 35 per cent tariff on them,” said Proud. 

She said she does support the sanctions put in place by Canada and its allies, but they do have an effect on the supply and price of fertilizer. 

The fertilizer sector contributes about $23 billion to the economy each year, according to Fertilizer Canada. 

Alternatives needed 

In Prince Edward Island, the potato board reported that farmers are seeing fertilizer prices increase by 75 per cent to 100 per cent this year. 

Because of this, farmers in the region have had to look for alternative solutions to common fertilizers or limit their intake. 

Louis MacDonald, co-owner of M and M Farming Company Ltd. in Newfoundland and Labrador, said he’s looking at ways to supplement fertilizer with local ingredients. 

“In the long-term we’re going to have to look at alternative methods, maybe supplemented with other items like seaweed, or liquid fertilizer,” he told CBC News. 

Known as residuals, these are often made out of by-products from other industries, including wood ash, fish bones, seashells and seaweed. 

A Nova Scotia company, LP Consulting, has already been developing these fertilizer residuals which cost farmers about $160 per tonne. 

farmers worry for incoming seed season as fertilizer costs soar 1
Some fertilizer distributors say demand will be met this year, but the long-term impacts of the sanctions are most worrisome. (Submitted by Dennis Skoworodko)

“The return on investment is astronomical this year,” said Misty Croney, LP consulting vice president. “We’ve been working with residuals a lot in all the Maritime provinces.” 

Croney said residuals aren’t as concentrated as chemical fertilizers, so farmers require more of them. 

Still, it’s a cheaper alternative. 

Croney said farmers haven’t been keen to make the switch to residuals in the past, but she’s noticed that they’re starting to show interest. 

Atlantic players try to meet demand

McCain Fertilizer in New Brunswick, and the Agromart Group and Cavendish Agri Services in Prince Edward Island, are some of the largest fertilizer companies on the east coast. 

John MacKinnon, general manager of Cavendish Agri Services, told CBC News he’s confident the company will meet the demand for fertilizer this season, but is uncertain about long-term impacts on supply.

“Like many organizations, we continue to monitor the ever-changing global market conditions to plan for future growing seasons,” said MacKinnon in an emailed statement. 

Sollio Agriculture in Quebec supplies fertilizer to farms across Atlantic Canada.

CEO Casper Kaastra called the situation a “wake-up” call for the sector. 

“The expectation will be that some of the traditional trade routes will evolve and change. There will be purchases from Russia of fertilizer products at points in the future by some countries, and that will make them less dependent on supply sources from other regions,” said Kaastra. 

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