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Fertilizer industry trends

“Fertilizers are essential inputs for agricultural production,” says Azam Nikzad, market analyst/coordinating researcher with the Alberta government. “In Alberta, fertilizer and lime accounted for approximately $2.5 billion of total farm operating expenses in 2022. Domestic demand for fertilizer is tied to seeded area and farm income, which is influenced by global crop prices.”

The fertilizer industry is global. The total market was valued at US$202 billion in 2023, with nitrogenous fertilizers being the most traded type, followed by phosphate and potash. Since Alberta is part of and contributes to the global fertilizer market, it becomes imperative to delve into the import and export dynamics that shape the province's role in this vital sector.

Alberta is a large producer of nitrogen. This is due to the availability of natural gas in the region, which is a key input used in the Haber-Bosch process (a method for manufacturing anhydrous ammonia). Alberta is also the largest sulfur producer in Canada. Sulfur is a by-product of natural gas and oil refining.

“Alberta exports nitrogen and sulfur-based fertilizers, including anhydrous ammonia, urea, ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate,” says Nikzad. “The combined volume of these 4 fertilizers reached above 1.8 million tonnes in 2023 and accounted for 98.8% of total fertilizer export volume from the province. In the last decade, ammonium sulphate exports demonstrated a consistent increase, while the remaining fertilizer exhibited fluctuations with ups and downs in their export volumes.

Alberta exported 22.1% of its total anhydrous ammonia production in 2022. This positioned Canada as the fifth largest exporter of ammonia in the world. Additionally, urea exports were 11.1% of Alberta's total urea production in the same year. The United States is the major export destination for Alberta’s fertilizers.

“Alberta does not make all the different types and formulations of fertilizer products needed by farmers,” explains Nikzad. “The province gets potash from Saskatchewan and relies on imported phosphate, primarily from the United States and Morocco. Alberta imports Monoammonium Phosphate (MAP) + Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), as well as compound fertilizers that contain nitrogen and phosphorus.”

The import volume of these fertilizers amounted to 340,833 tonnes, which represented 82.5% of the total import volume in 2023. MAP + DAP alone accounted for 70.7% of overall import volume during the same period.

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