Fertilizer is produced and transported year-round to meet U.S. farmers’ needs for crop nutrients. Fertilizer’s journey from production to application on the farm requires a variety of transportation modes including: marine vessels, railroads, trucks, and for some materials, pipelines. Distribution bottlenecks and service issues may restrict nutrient access during key utilization periods. This disruption could lead to reduced crop yields and lower food production levels. Fourteen companies participated in this metric.



A balanced transportation network is critical as each mode of transit plays a part in the distribution of fertilizer. Marine vessel, rail, and motor vehicle transportation are all prominent modes for fertilizers transportation. When looking at total tons of material transported by mode, truck shipments may appear inflated. Each ton of fertilizer is moved by a motor vehicle at least once, and often several times, during its journey.



When the transportation data is weighted by distance traveled, also known as ton-miles, the importance of rail stands out. On a ton-mile basis, 44 percent of all fertilizer moves by rail6. Marine vessels also carry a significant amount of fertilizer, and motor carriers are critical to shorter hauls, particularly as the product gets closer to its farmer customers. Rail and marine vessels often move fertilizer from the production facility to and throughout the United States to warehouses, terminals, and retailers.



The demand for safe and efficient transportation of fertilizer is year-round. The volume of shipments by rail, marine vessel, and pipeline are relatively steady from quarter to quarter. 

Trucking shipments are more seasonal. Fifty percent of all fertilizer in the United States is applied to corn. Corn is a seasonal crop and, due to the many factors that determine when and how fertilizer can be applied to corn, farmers are generally on a very tight schedule to apply the necessary nutrients. Trucks are used for shorter distances and to fill “just-in-time” orders, creating the most identifiable busy season in the second quarter (April through June).


State of the Industry
More About State of the Industry Report

Promoting sustainable usage and nutrient stewardship

The production, the promise and the challenges of fertilizer

Ensuring safe operation to protect people & their homes

2016 Fertilizer State of the Industry Report PDF