The following is a brief analysis by Krista Swanson, the lead economist for the National Corn Growers Association.
Phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plant growth and development, is important for corn productivity. Farmers use fertilizers to replenish phosphorus and other nutrients in the soil to maintain healthy and fertile land, but vital fertilizer management comes at a high cost. This is especially true for corn producers, particularly right now.
Since 1996, average annual fertilizer costs were about one-third of total operating costs incurred in growing a corn crop. For 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects fertilizer to make up 46% of the total operating costs incurred by the U.S. farmer in growing a corn crop, unchanged from 2022, but up from 37% for the 2021 crop and 35% for the 2020 crop. Aside from 2008, the current fertilizer-to-operating-cost ratio is at the highest point since the 1970s.
Compared to other major commodity crops, corn not only has the highest fertilizer costs in dollar value, but also the highest fertilizer-to-operating-cost ratio. Wheat is a close second, with the USDA forecast at 45% for 2023, but fertilizer costs are only 23-26% of the total operating costs for soybeans, cotton and rice.