Fertilizer prices have moderated in the last year or two from insane to merely crazy, says Texas AgriLife Extension soil fertility specialist Mark McFarland.

“After 2003 fertilizer got pricey,” McFarland said during the annual Ag Technology conference, held on the Texas A&M-Commerce campus. “In early 2008 and 2009 fertilizer prices got ridiculous,” he said. Energy costs, hurricanes, changes in sourcing, and increased competition from other countries all contributed to price hikes, he said.

“Price has moderated some,” he said, but it’s nowhere near normal and still well above 2003 prices, which he said will not return.

Better nutrient management becomes increasingly important as farmers struggle to find ways to maintain yields without significant production cost increases that may stem from those high fertilizer prices. McFarland recommends changes in soil testing procedures, sources and types of nutrients as they develop crop production plans.

“We have to do a better job of managing nutrients,” he said. “Anything we add to the soil changes the soil chemistry and can change the nutrient balance.”

He said healthy, properly fed plants are more resistant to diseases, insects and other stresses. “Fertility affects how competitive a plant can be. Feed it well and it out competes unwanted plants. Or, producers can increase input costs to control weeds.”