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As fertilizer prices rise, Montana farmers are adapting their plans

Due to high temperatures and low water supply, farmer Kurtis Dykema says his wheat crop is not as "full and thick" as he would like.
Olivia Weitz
Yellowstone Public Radio
Wheat field in Manhattan

The spring wheat and barley planting is wrapping up in Montana’s Golden Triangle, and the high fertilizer prices are impacting some farmers' planting decisions.

Supply chain issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have disrupted the fertilizer market. Some nitrogen fertilizer is selling for more than $1,000 a ton, triple what it was last fall.

Lyle Benjamin, a crop consultant with Nutrien Ag Solutions in Shelby, says with high fertilizer prices some of his clients have made changes.

“We’ve seen guys that we’re going to be a 100 percent wheat across their farm in January call up in February and say what’s UREA doing today and we’ll tell them it’s $800 or $850," Benjamin said, "and they’ll say let’s change direction, let’s raise some barley on the farm,” he said.

Wheat takes about twice the amount of UREA, or nitrogen fertilizer, as some barley varieties. Farmer Mark Suta says that was a big factor in his planting decisions.

“I’m going to rotate into more barley acres than spring wheat acres because it doesn’t take those inputs as much,” he said.

Suta says besides the cost-savings, it was a good time in his crop rotation to give some of his spring wheat fields a rest.

“Usually March is the intention and June is the follow-up to say did you actually plant this or did you have anything change your mind. We didn’t get any rain or we got rain or prices are up on something,” he said.

Over the next several weeks farmers are reporting what they decided to plant this spring to the US Department of Agriculture. The agency will release a report in June with planting numbers.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.