IFB submits comments on USDA fertilizer production grant program


USDA should tailor its new fertilizer production program to provide money for farmers and rural small businesses to add or expand on-farm fertilizer storage capacity.

That’s one of multiple recommendations proposed by Illinois Farm Bureau in comments filed this week to USDA as it works to implement the program.

Introduced this spring, the program is aimed at expanding independent domestic fertilizer production capacity amid soaring prices and supply-chain disruptions spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

“IFB has identified the lack of on-farm storage for fertilizer as a barrier to hedging or mitigating sudden unexpected jumps in the spot price of fertilizer,” IFB President Richard Guebert Jr. wrote in the comments.

IFB in March also issued a FB ACT action request for more thoughts on the program. In 15 days, 550 individual IFB members submitted over 2,500 individual comments to USDA, many of which were included in IFB’s final comments.

“If we can’t get fertilizer at the right time for planting and growing, we will have a very low production of corn and soybeans,” one IFB member wrote. “We will have less to sell even if prices are high, so less income to sustain farmers to remain farmers.”

The program would funnel money from the Commodity Credit Corp. to provide “gap” financing to bring new, independent domestic fertilizer production capacity online.

President Joe Biden and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during a May 11 visit to an 800-acre Kankakee grain farm announced the program’s funding would double, with total financing at $500 million.

“Literally on the plane out here, on Air Force One, I turned to Tom and I said, ‘Tom, double that. Make it $500 million. It’s so desperately needed. We can’t take chances,’” Biden said. “It’s critical to get this done.”

Details of the program are limited, but USDA has said its goal is to support production “outside the dominant fertilizer supplies, increasing competition in a concentrated market,” made in the U.S. to reduce “reliance on potentially unstable or inconsistent foreign supplies” and that is innovative, sustainable and “farmer-focused.”

Vilsack in recent testimony before Congress said USDA plans to make decisions about the program before Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends, with money awarded as early as this fall.

When funds are distributed, IFB said they should also go to farmers to purchase equipment that precisely applies fertilizer and alternative-fertilizer into soils, like agitators, pumps, injectors and dragline equipment.

“These grant loans should also be made available retroactively to Jan. 1, 2021, so that proactive investments made to supply alternatives to or hedge against rising fertilizer prices can be reimbursed,” Guebert wrote.

IFB in its comments also called on USDA to work alongside agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “remove regulatory barriers to domestic fertilizer production to increase domestic output.”

Those moves include reforms to environmental review processes that can prohibit increasing fertilizer production, re-enrolling potash and phosphate on the Critical Minerals List and designating phosphate rock as a critical mineral.

If done by the U.S. Geological Survey, the third change would “allow for a streamlined and reliable permitting process, which in turn will increase the domestic supply of fertilizer,” IFB said.

“USDA is well-positioned to serve as an advocate for farmers and rural economies across the federal government in making simple reforms that would spur additional fertilizer production,” Guebert wrote.

This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.