The roller coaster that is fertilizer prices appears to be headed back up for 2011, after reaching a peak in 2008 and dropping rapidly in 2009.

And not only is this trend troublesome to row-crop producers but also to cattlemen.

“What is an Alabama cattleman to do?” asks Charles Mitchell, Auburn University Extension agronomist-soils. “We depend on forages to support our cow-calf and stocker operations. Without fertilizers, we’d have to go back to running cattle in the piney woods of south Alabama like settlers did in the 1800s and early 1900s.”

Fortunately, there are alternatives, but none of them are cheap. “Each producer will have to look at his or her resources and level of grazing management to decide which alternative works best on their farm,” he says.

Several factors are causing the increase in fertilizer prices, says Mitchell. Most manufactured nitrogen fertilizers are made from fossil fuels. “We are aware of the gradual increase in gasoline prices so why would we not expect a similar trend in urea, ammonium nitrate, UAN solutions and other materials?”

There has also been a lot of speculation about phosphate prices increasing because of declining resources and increased world demand. All phosphate fertilizers come from limited rock deposits in Florida, North Carolina, North Africa, and a few other spots around the globe, he says. All of the high quality, easy-to-get-to phosphate rock has already been mined.

“Almost all our potash in now mined and imported from western Canada. We compete with China, Brazil and the rest of the world for these supplies and it takes fuel to transport this potash from Saskatchewan to Alabama. Thus, we see potash prices rising as well.”