Q. How much fertilizer is used in the United States?

A. Following World War II, fertilizer use expanded rapidly in the United States, but leveled off in the early 1980s after reaching a peak of 23.7 million nutrient tons in 1981. The United States is a mature market for fertilizer; as such, annual changes in use are typically driven by changes in planted acres, but are also influenced by relative crop-to-fertilizer prices and other factors.

There are two ways to measure use. One is by nutrient content — how much nitrogen, phosphate and potash are contained in the fertilizer applied. In fiscal year 2008, 21.5 million tons of nutrients were applied. Another way to measure use is in total tonnage — the total tons it takes to deliver the nutrient content. In fiscal year 2008, a total of 54.9 million tons of material were used in the United States.

View table of the 50-year history of U.S. fertilizer use.

Q. What are the top three fertilizer-utilizing U.S. crops?

A. Corn, wheat and soybeans.

Q. How much fertilizer does it take to produce a bushel of corn?

A. Depending on the type of cropping system used, typically 1.5 to 2 pounds of fertilizer nutrients.

Q. How much fertilizer does it take to produce a bushel of wheat?

A. Depending on the type of cropping system used, typically 2.5 to 3.5 pounds of fertilizer nutrients.

Q. How much fertilizer does it take to produce a bushel of soybeans?

A.    Depending on the type of cropping system used, typically 1.0 to 1.5 pounds of fertilizer nutrients.

Q. Is the United States a major producer of fertilizer?

A. Yes, although it depends on the nutrient. The United States is the world's third largest nitrogen producer and currently has the capacity to produce 12.5 million material tons of ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer, as a building block for other nitrogen products and for industrial uses.

The United States is the world's second largest phosphate producer after China with a capacity to produce over 10 million tons of phosphate (P2O5).  While the United States is one of only about a dozen countries that produces potash, it is not a major potash producer because of its relatively limited ore bodies.

Q. What about world fertilizer use?

A. World fertilizer nutrient use climbed steadily until the late-1980s when it reached 159.2 million tons. By 1994, world use had declined by 17 percent due to the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the associated drop in use in that region of the world.  Reductions in use resulting from Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy as well as a decline in use in Central Europe also contributed to the decline.  By the mid 1990’s world nutrient use was, again, on the rise and the rate of growth in world demand increased after the turn of the century as the world required a significant increase in crop production to feed a growing and more prosperous population as well as increased biofuels production.  World nutrient use stood at 185.1 million tons in 2008.   

Q. Which countries use and produce the most fertilizer?

A. The largest consuming countries are generally those with the larger populations and those with the best diets. They are: China, India, the United States and Brazil.

Production is a function of natural resources. Typically, nitrogen production requires a large and affordable supply of natural gas. The largest nitrogen producing countries are China, India, the United States and Russia.  Phosphate and potash production are dependent on the existence of the necessary ore bodies, phosphate rock and potash; however, phosphate rock can be imported to produce phosphate fertilizer as is prevalent in India.  The largest phosphate producing countries are China, the United States, India and Russia, while the largest potash producing countries are Canada, Russia and Belarus.

Q. Does the United States import or export fertilizer?

A. It depends on the nutrient. For nitrogen, the United States both imports and exports, though ends up a significant net importer.  As the largest importer of nitrogen in the world, most of the nitrogen imported into the United States is in the form of anhydrous ammonia and urea.  It is important to note that some nitrogen (in the form of anhydrous ammonia) imported to the United States is used in the production of ammonia phosphates such as DAP and MAP, which are then typically exported.
The United States is the world’s largest exporter of phosphate, typically exporting 40-45 percent of its production. The top importers of U.S. phosphate fertilizer are India, Brazil and Canada.

In potash, the United States imports the bulk of its domestic needs. The world's largest potash reserves are just north of the border in Canada, the source of most of the potash used in the United States.

Q. What about world trade?

A. Again, each of the three nutrients is treated as a separate sector. Although the quantity of nitrogen traded is the largest in volume, it is the least traded by share of production of the three nutrients, with about 27 percent of world production being traded. Russia is the world's largest exporter of nitrogen and the United States is the largest importer.

Phosphate and potash are more widely traded, with about 33 and over 70 percent, respectively, of the world's phosphate and potash production exported. The large exporting countries are those that are blessed with deposits of the ores used to make these nutrients. The largest phosphate exporting countries are the United States, Russia and China, while the largest potash exporting countries are Canada, Russia and Belarus.  The largest importing countries are generally those with large populations and advanced diets, and limited or no ore deposits.  The largest phosphate importing countries are India, Brazil and Vietnam, while the largest potash importing countries are the United States, China, India and Brazil.

Q. Where can I find information on fertilizer prices?

A.    The Fertilizer Institute does not distribute information on fertilizer prices. Data on U.S. fertilizer prices are available from both public and private sources. Information on how to access this data is given below.

For information on Wholesale Fertilizer Prices:

  • Green Markets - A Pike and Fischer Publication - One source of wholesale fertilizer prices is Green Markets, which is a fertilizer market intelligence weekly published by Pike and Fischer. Green Markets reports weekly prices for most of the major materials at one or more markets. Visit http://greenmarkets.pf.com.

For more information on Retail Fertilizer Prices:

Fertilizer prices paid by U.S. farmers (retail prices) are reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are available on USDA’s Web site in a monthly report entitled Agricultural Prices. Currently, USDA reports only the average price paid by specific fertilizer material during the month of March (although the March data are reported in the April issue of Agricultural Prices). From 1995-2008 USDA reported the average fertilizer price for selected materials in April.  From 1986-1994 USDA reported the average fertilizer price in both April and October and reported the average monthly price four times per year prior to 1986. USDA also reports a monthly price index for (1) all fertilizer materials; (2) nitrogen; (3) phosphate and potash; and (4) mixed fertilizers, but these numbers are indexes and are not product specific.
The monthly Agricultural Prices reports can be accessed by clicking here.