CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. agribusinesses are facing lingering inventory snafus and economic pain over farm chemicals and fertilizer, as a cold, wet spring that slowed crop plantings continues to cause ripple effects across the agricultural sector.
Farmers fell behind on planting corn in April due to the unfavorable weather, shortening the window for applications of products such as fertilizer and herbicides.
Demand for these products was compressed into a tighter timetable after Midwest weather improved dramatically in May, leading to a rush of orders that distributors could not quickly fulfill across the entire Farm Belt, according to farmers and dealers.
In Minnesota, a major producer of corn and soybeans, the Twin Cities saw the second-warmest May on record, according to National Weather Service data, which came after the state endured the snowiest-ever April, when 26.1 inches fell.
In Wolcott, Indiana, farmer Trent Hall was planning to finish spraying a Syngenta AG herbicide called Halex GT on 350 acres of corn last week, after previously applying it across 700 acres. But his local chemical dealer told him supplies ran out, after late plantings concentrated U.S. demand and the Memorial Day holiday created unexpected logistics issues, Hall said.
“Instead of it being spread out, everybody’s spraying at the same time,” Hall said.
Once Halex supplies were available again, rain further prevented Hall from spraying the chemical, he said. Delays can allow weeds to grow taller, making the herbicide less effective.
Syngenta, which is owned by Chinese chemical company ChemChina [CNNCC.UL], said it was unaware of shortages.
The unfavorable weather prompted rival Monsanto Co to make plans to hire more trucks to deliver an herbicide containing a chemical known as dicamba to distributors, based on expectations for compacted applications, said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy.
“We’ve actually re-calibrated how we’re going to make sure product stays at the distributors and in the fields,” he told Reuters last month. He did not specify how many more trucks Monsanto needed.
Dicamba was linked to widespread crop damage last year, after farmers said the chemical drifted away from where it was sprayed.
Missouri imposed a June 1 deadline for 2018 sprayings to prevent such problems, but the state has extended that cutoff to June 10 because of delayed plantings.
Fertilizer companies are also feeling ripple effects. In Hurdsfield, North Dakota, farm retailer Hefty Seed received deliveries late, manager Chad Weckerly said. Trucks carrying fertilizer did not make deliveries in North Dakota as scheduled last month because they were catching up on shipments in states further south where planting was delayed, he said.
When supplies did not arrive, Weckerly said he had to simply tell some customers: “I can’t get product. I can’t help you out today.”
Some farmers scrapped plans to plant corn and wheat and decided to plant soybeans, which need fewer nutrients, according to Weckerly, who is now stuck with inventories that farmers no longer want.
“These fertilizer companies are still bringing me fertilizer,” he said. “I’m gonna lose some money on this deal.”
Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Richard Chang