Nitrogen fertiliser shortages in southern Australia have occurred in spite of Australia's largest month for urea imports on record.
Commodity analysts Episode 3 found that according to United Nations Comtrade data May was a record month for Australian urea imports since statistics started to be collected in 2011.
Episode 3 founder Andrew Whitelaw also said that total urea imports to the end of May were at record levels.
"By the end of May urea imports were 250,000 tonnes more than last year and 350,000 tonnes more than the five year average," he said.
Through May 570,000 tonnes of urea was imported, with data for June, traditionally the major month for nitrogen fertiliser imports, yet to be compiled.
However, Mr Whitelaw said the data did not necessarily mean that reported shortages, occurring most dramatically in southern Australia, where seasonal conditions have picked up dramatically over winter, were not happening.
"Given the closure of Incitec Pivot Fertilisers' urea manufacturing facility at Gibson Island in Queensland, which produced about 280,000 tonnes of urea a year, there is no large scale local urea producer at present, with new proposed facilities yet to produce significant volumes so that shortfall has to be met with imports."
He said with June data yet to be released it could also be the case that the import peak has come earlier than usual.
The shortages are being reported through parts of South Australia, Victoria and southern NSW where seasonal conditions are best.
Farmers that were previously planning relatively modest fertiliser budgets on the back of a strong Bureau of Meteorology push for a drier than average season have seen sufficient winter rainfall to revise their initial position.
Mr Whitelaw said the distribution of imports could mean there are regionalised shortages.
"While imports have been strong they may not have been in the right locations."
There have been unconfirmed accounts of fertiliser moving by road from places with lower seasonal demand, such as Western Australia and Queensland.
Road freighting of fertiliser is extremely expensive, but given the sharp fall in urea prices year on year some producers may find the sums still add up.
Mr Whitelaw said aggregated data showed the average import price for urea in May was $543 a tonne, down from $561/t.
This figure is significantly lower than the retail price being offered to growers, as it does not include onshore transport costs or importer margins.
In terms of helping solve the issue of uncertainty regarding fertiliser supply Mr Whitelaw said given the lag in orders arriving a tracker of when shipments of urea were arriving could be useful for the fertiliser sector to factor in how long before new product was available.
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