Fertilizer Applications Fell by 17 Million Acres Nationally From 2017 to 2022

by Grace McDonald

As fertilizer prices spiked dramatically from 2017 to 2022 and more farmers across the U.S. adopted conservation practices, the latest Ag Census data shows that total overall commercial fertilizer applications dropped.

What’s more, DTN’s analysis of census data shows total applications by acre dropped in eight of the top 10 fertilizer-use states. According to data collected by DTN from Jan. 1, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2022, overall fertilizer prices increased by about 141%. That includes prices for DAP, MAP, potash, urea, 10-34-0, anhydrous, UAN28 and UAN32. Anhydrous and urea prices grew by about 300% during that time.

Fertilizer prices started to rise beginning in fall 2020 and reached higher levels through 2021 and 2022 until spring 2023 when prices began to fall. Retail fertilizer prices skyrocketed for many reasons, including COVID-19 transportation issues, global supply issues and a countervailing duty battle on phosphorus fertilizer.

The Ag Census shows there were only five states that recorded increases in fertilizer applications during the five-year period, including one major corn-producing state. In order they were Kansas, Montana, California, Washington and Mississippi.

Kansas ranked among the nation’s top five in total applications in 2022 and was No. 1 with its 775,791-acre increase to about 18.9 million. To the state’s credit, however, Kansas farmers led the nation in number of no-till acres added with 550,293 in 2022.

An overall cut nationally in fertilizer applications by about 17 million acres, according to the Ag Census, happened as total corn acres harvested also dropped by about 4.2 million acres from 2017 to 2022.

DTN has compiled a Top 10 list of states with the biggest cuts in commercial fertilizer applications according to the Ag Census and provides other insights as to how conservation efforts played out in those states from 2017 to 2022.

TOP 10 STATES CUTTING FERTILIZER USE

10. Kentucky — Producers in the state cut fertilizer applications by 495,369 acres in 2022, according to the Ag Census. Farmers also reported increases in both acres drained by tiling and ditches by a total of 54,942 acres in 2022.

On the conservation side, the most notable change for Kentucky farmers was in the use of conservation or reduced tillage — the Ag Census shows an increase of 272,806 acres in 2022. There were reductions reported in acres planted to cover crops, cropland acres using conventional tillage practices and on no-till acres.

9. Indiana — Farmers in the Hoosier state cut fertilizer applications by 547,257 acres from 2017 to 2022. The state ranked No. 9 in total acres of fertilizer applied at 9.4 million. Indiana producers also cut manure applications in 2022 by about 84,000 acres.

Indiana farmers took several positive conservation steps from 2017 to 2022.

Most notably, acres drained by tiling dropped from about 6.4 million in 2017 to about 5.8 million in the latest census. Acres drained by ditches also fell by about 83,000.

While no-till acres dropped by about 176,000, producers cut conventional tillage by about 315,000 acres and planted about 52,000 more cover-crop acres.

8. Minnesota — Commercial fertilizer applications in Minnesota fell by 564,397 acres in 2022 compared to 2017. The state also ranked No. 7 in overall fertilizer acres at about 14.1 million in 2022.

Minnesota producers made a significant cut in manure applications, according to the census, dropping acres by about 247,000 in 2022.

Conversely, farmers reported an increase of about 168,000 acres of tiling installed while also reducing acres drained by ditches by about 84,000.

Producers also reported increases in acres in conservation easements, no-till practices, conventional tillage and cover crops planted. Cropland applying conservation or reduced tillage fell by about 74,000 acres.

7. Illinois — Though Illinois ranked third overall in total acres fertilized in 2022 at 17.4 million, farmers in the state reported cutting applications by 939,881 acres. In addition, producers cut manure-treated acres by about 54,000.

Illinois producers increased acres of nematode treatments by 373,747. In addition, the amount of cropland and orchard acres treated for disease grew by about 1.6 million in 2022.

Illinois farmers cut the number of acres tile-drained from about 9.5 million in 2017 to about 8.8 million in 2022. On conservation or reduced tillage, Illinois producers cut acreage from about 9.5 million acres to 8.9 million in 2022, while slashing acres of intensive or conventional tillage by about 380,000 acres. Cover crop acres planted grew from 708,105 to 881,228 in 2022.

6. Nebraska — Farmers in Nebraska cut fertilizer applications by 1,212,403 acres from 2017 to 2022.

At the same time, producers cut the number of acres treated for insects from about 6.3 million in 2017 to about 4.4 million in 2022. Treatments for weeds, grass or brush also fell from about 18.5 million acres to about 16.2 million in the latest census.

On the conservation side, farmers reduced no-till acres by about 155,000 acres and cropland using conservation or reduced tillage by nearly 750,000 acres.

Nebraska producers bumped up tiling acres by about 66,000 and reduced acres drained by ditches by about 75,000. Nebraska farmers also planted about 178,000 more acres of cover crops in 2022.

TOP FIVE STATES

5. Missouri — Commercial fertilizer applications fell by 1,329,971 acres in Missouri from 2017 to 2022, in what was the No. 10 overall state for acres applied at about 9.4 million.

Perhaps the most eye-popping number in the Ag Census for chemicals in Missouri came in the number of acres treated for insects. Farmers in the state reduced acres treated by about 1.8 million from 2017 to 2022.

In addition, Missouri agriculture reduced tiling acres by about 73,000, while increasing acres drained by ditches by about 106,000.

Producers also bumped up no-till acres from about 4.6 million to 4.9 million in 2022. Missouri farmers also boosted cover crop plantings by about 80,000 acres.

4. Oklahoma — The Sooner state recorded the fourth-largest cut in commercial fertilizer applications, reducing acres by 1,469,782 from 2017 to 2022.

The number of acres treated for insects dropped by about 1.7 million from 2017 to 2022. In addition, acres treated to control weeds, grass or brush dropped by about 2.2 million in 2022.

Oklahoma agriculture increased no-till and conservation and reduced-tillage acres slightly, while bumping up cover-crop acres planted by about 68,000.

3. South Dakota — South Dakota farmers cut commercial fertilizer applications by 1,524,624 acres in 2022.

Producers dramatically cut acres treated for insects, weeds, grass and bushes in the latest census. Acres treated for weeds, grass and brush were cut by about 3 million and by about 1.6 million acres on insects in 2022.

Producers increased tiling acres by about 88,000, while cutting acres drained by ditches by about 53,000 and increasing acres under conservation easements by about 42,000 acres.

No-till acres were cut by about 346,000 and cropland using conservation or reduced tillage was slashed by about 320,000 acres. South Dakota farmers did bump up cover crops planted by about 69,000 acres in 2022.

2. North Dakota — The nation’s fourth-largest state by fertilizer acres applied reported a cut of 2,308,314 fertilizer acres in 2022.

The most eye-catching Ag Census number for North Dakota chemicals applied came in acres treated for weeds, grass and brush, reducing acres treated from about 22.3 million in 2017 to about 18.5 million in 2022.

On the conservation side, North Dakota farmers trimmed nearly 800,000 acres of cropland that applied conservation or reduced tillage in 2022. However, producers more than doubled cover-crop acres planted to 838,252 in 2022.

In addition, North Dakota agriculture cut the number of acres using conventional tillage from about 5.6 million in 2017 to about 4.7 million in 2022.

1. Texas — Perhaps by nature of its size, Texas led the nation in cutting commercial fertilizer applications by 3,499,041 acres from 2017 to 2022.

A few things stand out about the use of ag chemicals in Texas.

Texas producers cut the number of acres treated for insects from 7.6 million in 2017 to about 3.5 million in 2022. In addition, farmers cut acres treated for weeds, grass and brush from about 20.1 million to 15.3 million in 2022.

In conservation, Texas farmers reported both an increase in cropland acres that use conservation or reduced tillage from about 5 million acres to 5.5 million acres, and a decrease in conventional tillage from about 8.7 million acres to about 7.8 million.

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DTN

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