The price of nitrogen fertiliser has tripled over the past year due to the significant rise in price of natural gas, a key feedstock, as well as trading restrictions in major nitrogen fertiliser exporters.
Nitrogen is a critical nutrient for cereals, and the yields we expect from modern farms are underpinned by significant applications of nitrogen fertiliser. The rising price will limit purchases by farmers and wheat yields may suffer as a consequence.
For milling wheat there is another dimension, as extra nitrogen applications are needed to develop high protein concentrations in grain. The high prices may restrict applications by growers and the protein of breadmaking wheat for the 2022 harvest (and likely the 2023 harvest) could be lower.
AHDB produced guidance for growers advising how to react to the nitrogen fertiliser price rises. Whilst this touched on milling wheat, it did not feature a proper analysis of the implications of adjusting fertiliser rates on wheat protein, and what that could mean in terms of the milling premium the farmer would be able to receive.
UK Flour Millers funded additional analyses that cover this consideration. The guidance to growers can be found here: https://ahdb.org.uk/how-best-to-respond-to-costly-fertiliser-nitrogen-for-use-in-2022