A SERIES of shipments of urea are expected to arrive in south-eastern Australia soon to ease growing shortages of the nitrogen-based fertiliser caused by a massive and unexpected spike in demand following excellent May / June rainfall for many farmers.
There have been reports throughout June of farmers having difficulty sourcing urea, with supplies running very low, both at port and from upcountry fertiliser distributors.
Shane Dellavedova, the owner of Dellavedova Fertiliser Services, based in Maryborough, Victoria, and a board member of the Australian Fertiliser Services Association (AFSA) said the swift turnaround in seasonal fortunes had caught industry on the hop and due to the lag time of importing fertiliser there was currently a period of tight supply until the imports became available.
"It's probably a good problem to have in a way, we've gone from the situation at Anzac Day, where putting out urea was the last thing on people's minds, with many places not having any rain for the year, to the current climate where much of Victoria and South Australia has had excellent rain," Mr Dellavedova said.
He said orders for urea following the rain were now at the higher end of the scale.
"It really has been very solid, in the lead-up to the last rainband through early June there was a lot of fertiliser sold," he said.
His comments were backed up by a spokesperson for major fertiliser business Incitec Pivot.
"Following the recent widespread rain across SA, Victoria and southern NSW, there has been significant increase in demand for urea, well above normal seasonal requirements," the spokesperson said.
Brett Hosking, Grain Growers chairman, said there had been reports from growers of difficulty getting hold of urea supplies.
"It is not completely impossible to get, but more of a case of having to wait a few days before they can get their hands on it, even if there were orders in," Mr Hosking said.
He said there was good demand for urea from farmers.
"The season has really picked itself up for most of Victoria and given grain prices are also relatively high it has given the people the confidence to go and chase a bit of yield, which is a great turnaround from the start of May when things were just bone-dry."
The IPL spokesperson expected several shipments of urea to arrive in coming weeks, easing the pressure on supplies.
Mr Dellavedova added the forecast of a dry period for the next ten days would also take the pressure off.
"Without the forecast of rain to wash the urea in, people will probably be a bit more relaxed about waiting a day or two to get hold of their supplies," he said.
Mr Dellavedova said aside from the big improvement in seasonal conditions, the legacy of the ongoing dry through NSW and the Victorian Mallee also had an impact on normal fertiliser supply and demand patterns.
"What we normally see is a lot of Mallee and NSW people take hold of their fertiliser over Christmas and into January, a lot of that is done backloading shipments of grain they take to port.
"Given there was no grain to cart they did not order the fertiliser like they normally do, meaning it stayed in the shed.
"The importers don't like to order more fertiliser when their sheds are still full, whether that be a phosphorus or nitrogen fertiliser, so they have held off on orders until later, which has led to the current situation.
"Where you might normally have urea orders on the water in March, this year it was late April or even early May before the interest was enough to justify more orders.
"You've then got the eight weeks or so lag time on the water before the product arrives and that is where we find ourselves at the moment, just in a little bit of limbo while we wait for shipments to arrive."