Fertilizer Markets Roiled by Belarus Potash Force Majeure

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(Bloomberg) — A Belarusian potash miner that accounts for a major chunk of global supply has declared force majeure, shaking up a market that’s already contending with soaring prices.

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JSC Belaruskali said around Feb. 16 that it won’t be able to meet its contracts, according to a letter from an exporter addressed to clients seen by Bloomberg. U.S. and European sanctions have also resulted in a halt of shipments.

The absence of Belarusian supplies will have big consequences. Potash is a key nutrient for major commodity crops like corn and soybeans, as well as produce. Fertilizer prices have already skyrocketed as soaring natural gas costs forced some European plants to halt or curtail production, and U.S. spot prices for potash in the Corn Belt have nearly doubled in the last year. Expensive fertilizer is making food more costly to produce and contributing to rising global inflation for consumers.

“Global potash contracts have settled at the highest price since 2008, ensuring another year of pricey inputs for farmers and strong earnings for producers,” Alexis Maxwell, an analyst Green Markets, a company owned by Bloomberg, said in an email. “U.S. sanctions on Belarus eliminated a key competitor” with no readily available alternative supplier.

Read More: U.S. Potash Sanctions May Push Belarus Deeper into Putin’s Arms

Belarus exports about 10-12 million metric tons annually, according to Green Markets data. The country accounts for about a fifth of global supply. It’s a major shipper to Brazil, as well as to India and China.

The U.S. Sanctions against Belaruskali OAO, Belarus’s only potash miner, came into force on Dec 8, while penalties against Belarusian Potash Company, that exports all the potash from the country, should become effective April 1.

The sanctions may result in shifting trade flows and some demand rationing, Nutrien Ltd.’s interim Chief Executive Officer Ken Seitz said in an interview. Customers who have historically purchased from Belarus are trying to secure supplies elsewhere. For example, Russia is doubling fertilizer quantities offered to Brazil, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said during an interview to Radio Jovem Pan Thursday.

Nutrien has an additional half million tons of capacity that would be available in the latter half of 2022 if needed, Seitz said. Grower margins are strong, so higher potash prices won’t result in less demand.

The company could also ramp up potash output, but first, it would need to see a prolonged impact on the market for “years” to bring on additional sustained capacity, Seitz said. Nutrien increased its potash capacity by 1 million tons in 2021 and additional volumes are expected to come online in 2022 from other companies, he said.

“We’re not standing around saying we’re not doing anything,” Seitz said, noting the company doesn’t want to be left with additional cost if supply challenges go away quickly. “We are bringing on volumes.”

Nutrien anticipates global potash shipments will be between 68 million tons and 71 million tons in 2022.

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