Companies assessing crop input supplies

One of the world’s largest providers of crop nutrition products says it’s taking steps to ensure that farmers have access to the crop inputs they need for spring seeding.

“We’re empowering our supply chain and distribution teams to accelerate fertilizer, seed and other critical products into the market for customers now,” said Nutrien president and chief executive officer Chuck Magro in a written statement.

“We want farmers to be able to start preparing early for spring planting, in case they need to work with limited staffing resources later in the season.”

“Fertilizer and product is moving normally throughout our supply chain at present,” added Nutrien spokesperson Will Tigley in a March 30 interview.

“We have activated our pandemic plans in response to COVID-19 to ensure that our plants, our mines and our supply chains all continue to operate reliably so that we play our part to ensure food security.”

Nutrien’s rail, truck and marine carriers are also reporting fluid movements, Tigley added.

It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect global food production and food security, however some organizations are already warning that shortages of certain food items could occur.

Last week, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that COVID-19 could have a significant negative impact on the global food supply chain, due to border closures and logistical restrictions that could disrupt the movement of food, labour and other products.

“We risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to… keep global food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impacts across the food system,” the FAO wrote.

In Europe, travel bans and other restrictions that limit personal mobility are causing disruptions in farm labour markets.

Producers in European countries are suggesting that some perishable food crops such as fresh fruits and vegetables will go to waste due to a lack of seasonal workers.

The window for picking mature fruits and vegetables is narrow. To harvest perishable crops in a timely manner, European producers depend on a work force consisting of hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers, many coming from other parts of the world.

In his statement, Magro said COVID-19 is already impacting communities around the world and could have long-term impact on global food supplies unless steps are taken to maintain production and global supply chains.”While many of us will experience some frustration about not being able to find things on our grocery lists, this is a short-term problem,” he said.”As an agriculture industry, we need to look ahead to future food production to ensure this isn’t a long-term issue. Nutrien is at the beginning of the food supply chain, and our role as an essential service, is more critical than ever.”

Last week, Magro told Reuters that Nutrien has expedited spring shipments of crop supplies by two to four weeks.

“In the northern (United States) and in Canada, we are forward-placing a lot faster and a lot more volume than we normally do at this time,” he said.

“Food security for the fall and for next year will be determined by what happens in the next two months in the Northern Hemisphere.”

So far, there have been few reports of crop input shortages and placement delays in Western Canada. However, some farmers are worried about the availability of supplies and the potential impact of COVID-19 on Canadian agricultural exports.

At Winfield United, general manager Greg McDonald said early-season crop input products are mostly in place in Western Canada. Supplies of most products will be sufficient to meet Canada’s domestic demands.

Winfield United supplies more than $500 million worth of fertilizer, seed and crop input products annually to more than 150 independent ag retail locations across the country. About 95 percent of the products distributed by Winfield United are used in Western Canada.

“Overall, I think supply is in not bad shape today,” McDonald said.

“The supply is there. There’s a few delays, potentially, but I think overall things are in pretty good shape to get the 2020 crop in.”

McDonald said operational changes affecting warehousing and trucking companies have slowed the movement of some products to retail locations in Western Canada.

“There’s been a few hiccups or delays, because there’s a little bit more complexity in the day-to-day work environment. But at the same time, the industry is adapting…,” McDonald said.

Most of the early-season crop input products required by Western Canadian farmers were in place before the COVID-19 time bomb exploded in North America, he added.

In addition, many farmers were more proactive than normal this year in terms of sourcing crop input products and making delivery arrangements.

However, McDonald said there is some uncertainty surrounding the availability of products that are used later in the growing season, including late staging herbicides and fungicides.

Those products are typically sourced abroad and usually aren’t shipped to Canada until later in the calendar year.

McDonald advised growers to plan early and work closely with ag retailers to ensure products are in place as soon as possible.

With government policies and transportation regulations changing almost daily, growers should leave nothing to chance, he added.

“I think when you start looking at products that are used a bit later in the growing season — things like late staging herbicides, fungicides and pre-harvest products — some of those products aren’t in the country yet so they could be more of a concern.”

“If I was a farmer, I’d want to make sure I had a really good plan in place and that I was working with my ag retail partners to make sure that that product was in position at the farm, sooner than later….”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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