Friday, April 19, 2024

Fertiliser spreading operations cut right back

Neal Wallace
Drastic decline in air and ground applications compared to year before.
Ballance Agri-nutrients lowered the price of its N-based fertiliser products.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The volume of fertiliser applied from aircraft halved last year and applications from ground spreaders were back about a third.

Initial data released by the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association and the Civil Aviation Authority shows the volume of solid and liquid fertiliser applied by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in 2023 fell 52% compared to 2022.

That decline was most severe with liquid products, which fell 67%, while solids declined 51%.

Aircraft operators flew 18% fewer hours.

Simon Pedersen, chair of Groundspread NZ, said information from his members indicates fertiliser volumes were back about 30%, most of that decline driven by lower demand from sheep and beef farmers.

“Anyone doing work in the sheep and beef sector is well down.”

He said those working in dairying areas were less affected.

Farmers are in general making their fertiliser investment go further by applying less of it.

Pedersen said looking at the current year, the dry weather is impacting production at a time when product prices, especially for sheep meat, are low.

“This year is going to be pretty average at best,” he said.

Comparable figures are not yet available from the Fertiliser Association but a spokesperson expects volumes to be down for the 2023-24 year. 

Tony Michelle, executive officer for the NZ Agricultural Aviation Association, said there is some uncertainty with the 2023 data, which is being queried.

Michelle said low returns, changes in land use and the impact of escalating costs of operating aircraft have driven farmers and growers to choose lighter applications of fertiliser and reduced weed control.

He said an increase in the use of high analysis fertilisers also means less volume is applied and fewer hours flown.

Other reasons for the reduced volumes are a downturn in primary product prices, urban encroachment into productive farmland and significant increases in the cost of fertiliser, shipping and cartage.

He said almost all aviation fuel is imported, and it has increased in price along with significant hikes in labour and technician costs.

Michelle said the price of Pratt & Whitney engines alone has increased 21% while Safran engine components are 80% more expensive.

Pedersen said ground spreaders are similarly impacted, with the price of trucks and parts rising about 20% in recent years and delivery taking longer.

It now takes the best part of two years to get new truck on the road after ordering it.

To buy and fit out a new spreader previously cost $400,000; it now costs $500,000 due to higher purchase costs and the price of elements such as bins and wheels.

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