The price for nitrogen (N) fertilizer is probably 10-15% higher now than it was at the same time last year, says Leo Espinoza, soils specialist with the University of Arkansas.

“Everyone wonders if prices are going to stay high or increase,” he says. “The answer may lie more overseas than at home.”

Espinoza says natural gas prices affect N production costs and the price manufacturers charge. Since natural gas prices are high it's expected that fertilizer prices will also be high.

Here's what Espinoza recommends for farmers who haven't yet booked N for 2004:

  • Beware of deals too good to be true. Most farmers think in terms of dollars/ton. Farmers should get used to figuring in cents/lb.

    “Last year, several products were being marketed with an attractive price based on tonnage,” he says. “While $145/ton appeared to be an attractive price, the product contained only 16% N. So when you do the calculations a pound of N was costing them 45¢. If you compare that to 25¢/lb. of N from urea, you realize that it's not a good deal at all.”

  • Take soil samples. Espinoza urges farmers to take soil samples so they know the nutritional status of their soil.

  • Cut N last. Farmers tend to cut back on fertilizers in bad economic years. If you must cut back, N should be the last one, says Espinoza.