Summary of the Data Findings
2012 Saw Near Record Imports of Nitrogen, Moderate Declines in Phosphate Exports, and Large Declines in Potash Imports
U.S. nitrogen and potash supplies largely depend on imports. More than 50 percent of nitrogen (N) and 85 percent of potash (K2O) supply was from imports in fertilizer year (July 1 to June 30) 2011. (See the topic page Fertilizer Use and Markets for market shares of U.S. domestically produced fertilizers). Because domestic production capacity is limited, any increase in nitrogen and potash supply will be largely from imports. In contrast, U.S. phosphate (P2O5) supply mainly depends on domestic production, which provided about 56 percent of domestic use in year 2012. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of nitrogen fertilizers and the largest exporter of phosphate fertilizers.
In calendar year 2012, the U.S. imported 10.74 million tons of nitrogen, 0.49 million tons of phosphate, and 5.78 million tons of potash. Imports of nitrogen were largely unchanged from 2011 levels, while imports of phosphate and potash declined 22 and 20 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, in 2012 the U.S. exported 1.75, 3.84, and 0.19 million tons of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash, respectively. Exports of nitrogen and potash increased 4 and 48 percent, respectively, over 2011 levels, while exports of phosphate declined 10 percent. As a result, during 2012, net nitrogen and potash imports decreased 1 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while net phosphate exports decreased 8 percent from 2011 levels.
Plant nutrients imported from July to December of 2012 are expected to be used for 2013 crops. From July to December of 2012, imports of nitrogen totaled 5.47 million tons, up 7 percent from July-December 2011 totals. Meanwhile, U.S. nitrogen exports were down 13 percent, to 0.73 million tons, compared with the same time period in 2011. As a result, net nitrogen imports in July-December 2012 were up 3 percent over net imports during the same period in 2011.
From July to December of 2012, exports of U.S. phosphate totaled 1.55 million tons, down 25 percent from the same time period in 2011. Meanwhile, U.S. phosphate imports were 0.27 million tons, which is 88 percent more than July-December 2011 imports. As a result, net phosphate exports in July-December 2012 decreased 33 percent from net exports during the same period in 2011.
From July to December of 2012, U.S. potash imports totaled 2.91 million tons, up 1 percent from July-December 2011. U.S. potash export increased to 0.101 million tons, up 85 percent. As a result, net potash imports in July-December 2012 were down less than 1 percent from net imports during the same period in 2011.
Near record imports of nitrogen reflected strong U.S. demand in 2012, largely driven by high grain prices. The 2012 drought seems to have had little significant effect on nitrogen demand. Because of increasing natural gas supplies in the U.S., nitrogen can now be produced more cheaply domestically than it can be imported (at the global price). Several new U.S. ammonia plants are currently under construction that could add 25 percent more to current domestic production capacity by 2016, but in the meantime, increased demand must be met through increased imports, raising the average price of nitrogen.
The decline in phosphate exports in 2012 reflected weakening global demand due to increased foreign supplies in global phosphate markets. Exports to India and Brazil, the two largest importers of U.S. phosphate, were reduced nearly 50 percent and 30 percent, respectively in 2012. Meanwhile, the average phosphate (DAP) price in the U.S. was slightly lower in 2012 than the high price in 2011. Relatively high prices and the 2012 drought apparently softened U.S. phosphate demand. In addition, the 2012 drought left a considerable amount of applied phosphate in the soil. Thus, some farmers might reduce phosphate use in the fall for 2013 crops.
The decline in potash imports (mainly from Canada which provided 85 percent of U.S. potash supply in the 2012), was due to weakening U.S. demand, caused largely by relatively high prices and the drought. Similar to phosphate, the 2012 drought left a considerable amount of applied potash in the soil, so some farmers might reduce potash use in the fall for 2013 crops. The average U.S. price of potash was slightly lower in 2012 than the high price in 2011.