There will be “a level of price reduction later in the year”, but Liam Woulfe, the managing director of fertiliser company Grassland Agro, wasn’t talking down prices in the short term during his presentation to the annual arable conference at Greenmount on Tuesday.

He acknowledged that gas prices have fallen significantly in recent weeks, and that is reflected in key ingredients such as ammonia, phosphate and potash, which are down on peak prices seen in the second half of 2022.

However, all three are still two to three times more expensive than prices seen in 2021.

Existing fertiliser stocks made when prices were high will have to work through the system, but when a market is trending downwards, people don’t like to buy.

According to Woulfe, that is leading to concerns about supplies in the peak March to April period.

He said he was unsure just how much product there is available. “The inventories might be there. Early markets in Europe are buying hand to mouth. There might be inventories but there are markets that haven’t been filled,” he said.

He expects product to be available in February, but is less clear beyond that. In addition, high prices soak up working capital. “You want a stout bank and a firm heart to buy the same quantity when prices are treble what they were,” he said.


With EU sanctions on fertiliser from Russia or Belarus, it means 40% of supply is now being bought outside of normal channels.

That could lead to time delays, and some traditional fertiliser products might not be available in the near term, said Woulfe.

This time last year, he maintained his anxiety level for the year ahead was at 10. It is currently “a solid eight-plus”, with sleepless nights being had over the last three weeks as he tries to balance risks in the market with ensuring product is available in Ireland.

“Make sure you do your own business as and when needed,” he advised farmers.

Specific role for biostimulants and foliar feeds

High fertiliser prices have brought renewed interest in liquid nitrogen, biostimulants and foliar feeds, but none of them replace the need to get the basics right in soil health, Phil Burrell from Yara told attendees at the arable conference at Greenmount.

He said it was “a real bugbear” when he gets a phone call from a grower asking how much phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) should go on, to subsequently find out soil pH is sitting at 5.5.

“At a pH of 5.5, half of the P you put on will be locked up. Spend £20 on lime to unlock £200 of nutrients,” he said.

He maintained that foliar products do have a role in putting “the cream on top”, but everything else must be right, including applying the correct level of fertiliser to a crop.

“Foliar N products work really well when you look to replace the final 30kg. But if you don’t get 130kg on to get the biomass in there, you will be disappointed. Used in the right way, they have a place,” he said.


On biostimulants (defined as products that stimulate natural plant processes), he maintained that increasingly tight regulations around the use of chemicals will mean they get a lot of focus going forward.

He said that various products, when used correctly, do definitely work and they can have a big positive impact on crop quality. But he also pointed out that it is an area that lacks regulation, with no requirement on manufacturers to prove their claims.

“We [Yara] are taking products forward into trialling so we can get better data on them,” he said.

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