Local farmers face costly planting season as fertilizer prices skyrocket

Farmers in the Ottawa area say they’re facing a pricey planting season this year as the cost of fertilizer has nearly doubled.

Mel Foster is one of the farmers that owns Foster Family Farms in North Gower, and said he got some grim news when he spoke to his suppliers late last fall about the price of fertilizer for the 2022 growing season.

“Whatever amount we spent last year, they say it’s going up one hundred per cent,” Foster recalled. “If we spent $100,000 last year, we’ll spend $200,000 this year.”

The price hike can be attributed to factors that include supply chain issues, production disruptions due to bad weather in the United States and China’s decision to curtail exports to meet their own demands, said Canada Fertilizer executive vice-president Clyde Graham.

Then there’s the “deeply concerning” invasion of Ukraine, which Graham said has also led to sanctions against Russian fertilizer exports.

While western Canada is a net exporter of potash and nitrogen fertilizer, Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces import these products from Russia, Graham said, as it’s been more cost effective in the past. But with a 35 per cent tariff on some imports, it’s not looking so appealing right now, he said.

Diesel also on the rise

Adding to the list of expenses is the rising cost of diesel, which has also been affected by the sanctions, said Keith Currie, vice-president of the Canadian Farmers Association.

Given most farm vehicles are diesel-powered, production costs are expected to rise significantly this season, Currie said.

Most farmers have their prices locked in by the market, he added, and unless they sell directly to consumers they can’t hike how much they charge to recoup the costs they’re incurring.

“If McDonald’s has a problem with having a fuel surcharge from the trucking companies passed onto them, they’ll put another nickel on each hamburger to offset that cost,” Currie said.

“We don’t have that luxury. Our prices are already set.”

A potash mine in Saskatchewan. While western Canada is a net exporter of fertilizer, Ontario and Quebec farmers often source their fertilizer from Russia — but that may now change. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

As for Foster, who does sell directly to consumers, he’s currently focused on the spring weather, crossing his fingers for timely rains and hoping for a better crop than last year when the region was hit by a severe late spring frost.

Foster said he’d like to keep the prices of their fruits and vegetables stable, but predicts they’ll see a slight increase. Along with fertilizer and diesel, his labor costs are also on the upswing, as minimum wage increased earlier this year.

“With fertilizer, the fuel prices, and labor prices going up – those are our three main costs. I would think we’d have to definitely raise [our prices] if labor goes up again,” he said.

“We’re [also] weather dependent. It’s a huge gamble there. I don’t go to the casino, but I think I get enough gambling here on the farm.”

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