Fertiliser prices set to soar, chairman says

David Graham
David Graham
The price of superphosphate fertiliser could reach $700 a tonne by Christmas, according to the head of one of the country's leading manufacturers and retailers.

If the prediction of Ballance Agri-Nutrients chairman David Graham is correct, the price of agriculture's fundamental base fertiliser would have increased 218% in 18 months and 49% since June.

A year ago, superphosphate was selling for about $220 a tonne, but Mr Graham said $700 a tonne was not unrealistic given soaring international prices.

Pushed on a possible time, Mr Graham said Ballance had quarterly price reviews and with the way ingredient prices were rising, it could be reached by Christmas.

Other fertiliser prices would also continue to rise driven by soaring global demand for fertiliser as countries secure their own food production in the face of shortages.

Mr Graham said United States farmers were sowing three corn crops in two years while land that has been set aside for conservation and environmental reasons was being brought back into food production.

"We cannot see these global prices coming back in the near future and as a consequence we expect further price increases and a reduction in local demand."

Company sales in the past financial year were up 150,000 tonnes at 1.54 million tonnes.

This was a sign that farmers were stockpiling product ahead of looming price rises, said Mr Graham.

Ballance this week reported a record financial performance for the year ended May 31, increasing its pre-rebate trading profit by a massive 135% to $78.3 million.

Mr Graham said the company would pay an average rebate and dividend of $36 for every tonne of fertiliser purchased.

The previous year's pre-rebate profit was $33.4 million but Mr Graham said the company last year set manufacturing, sales and rebate records.

Turnover was up 31% to $651 million which Mr Graham said allowed Ballance to return $41.3 million to shareholders through dividends and rebates, a 67% increase on the $24.7 million paid the previous year.

Mr Graham said it was too simplistic to attribute the operating surplus on rising global prices, saying Ballance held its super phosphates prices throughout autumn in the face of rising input costs.

"Our retail prices are always very competitive in the local market. Furthermore, the big industry price movements came after balance date."

Nutrient budgeting required by dairy farmers actually resulted in less fertiliser being applied, but that was balanced to some extent by the record milk payout giving them more disposable income.

Fertiliser requirements on dairy conversions occurring in Southland had also helped sales.

The company's urea manufacturing plant in Taranaki was a significant contributor to Ballance's result, and during the year $10 million was invested upgrading manufacturing facilities.

It has taken steps to strengthen its balance sheet ahead of what he called "a challenging period" for the global fertiliser industry.

Shareholder equity was 14% higher at $303 million, assets were up 12% at $475 million and equity was 64%.

Earlier this week, arch-rival Ravensdown reported a $40 million pre-rebate and pre-tax profit and said it would return $36 million to shareholders in rebates and bonus shares.

Revenue was $672 million from sales of 1354 million tonnes of fertiliser, 650,000 tonnes of lime and sales of agri-chemicals and animal health products.


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