British farmers hit by £1.4 billion fertiliser bill since Russian invasion of Ukraine, with costs set to stay high

British farmers have been hit by additional fertiliser costs of £1.45 billion since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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By George Smeeton

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New analysis has revealed that British farmers have been hit by additional fertiliser costs of £1.45 billion [1] since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the second anniversary of which is this week. Fertiliser prices spiralled ahead of and following the invasion, hitting unprecedented highs in summer 2022.

The price of gas soared because of the Russian invasion and gas is heavily used in the production of many fertilisers. Prices for ammonium nitrate, the main fertiliser used by British farmers hit £870 per tonne in September 2022, compared to an average price per tonne of £217 in 2020.

Based on an analysis of monthly fertiliser price [2] and usage data [3], the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has calculated that farmers spent around £1.42 billion on fertiliser in 2022, and £964m in 2023. Compared to the £470m spent in 2020 – the last year of ‘normal’ prices before the gas price crisis – this means that farmers have spent an estimated £1.45 billion more on fertiliser since February 2022 than they would if gas and fertiliser prices had remained at pre-crisis levels.

Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU said, “Farmer protests are in the news, and one of the commonly cited reasons is the price they are having to pay to grow their crops and feed their animals. Farmers have been paying a ‘gas price penalty’ on fertiliser, and the bad news is that seems set to continue into 2024. The Government’s new green farming schemes that incentivise soil health should help to reduce the UK’s need for and dependence on foreign fertiliser imports.”

Although fertiliser prices have come down from the peak of 2022, they have plateaued at 50% above pre-crisis levels since May 2023. If this higher price is maintained throughout 2024, farmers are projected to spend £755m on fertiliser this year, £285m or 60% more than they would have spent in 2020. With gas prices projected to remain high for the rest of the decade, it is likely that higher costs are here to stay.

The high gas price was cited as the main reason for the closure of the UK’s largest ammonia plant at Billingham last year [4], leaving the UK dependent on imports for the main raw material used in chemical fertilisers.

To insulate themselves from the high costs of fertiliser and possible interruptions in supply, increasing numbers of farmers are looking to nature to help build the fertility of their soils. In England, Defra’s new green farming schemes [5] offer payments to farmers for legume fallows, cover crops and herbal leys [6], all intended to improve soil health and fertility. In turn, these measures can reduce farmers reliance on expensive chemical fertilisers, replacing volatile imported nutrients with home grown fertility from healthy soils.

Colin Chappell, a farmer from Lincolnshire [7] said, “The gas price crisis has revealed that a lot of UK production is dependent on imported fertilisers and pesticides. Farming with nature to improve the fertility of our soils can give farmers independence, increase the resilience of our food production and help build more genuine food security.

“With price pressures mounting, it doesn’t make sense for me to keep handing so much money over to big fertiliser companies, when I can get paid to achieve more sustainable crop nutrition through these new schemes.”

Many of the steps farmers can take to improve soil health are also amongst the most effective means of absorbing carbon and reducing pollution to rivers, and can benefit wildlife such as pollinators and farmland birds [8].

Tom Lancaster said, Farmers have been hit hard as fertiliser costs soared, so schemes that reduce dependence on these chemicals can help to boost the UK’s food security. These schemes also help farmers to invest in hedgerows and trees that protect fields and livestock from extreme weather that is worsening with climate change, again protecting yields and improving productivity.”

British households are estimated to have paid an extra £605 for food in 2022 and 2023 due the impacts of extreme weather and the gas crisis driving up food prices [9], as fertiliser companies made record profits in 2022 [10].


Notes to editors

[1] Analysis available on request





[6] Legume fallows, cover crops and herbal leys all involve using a variety of plant species to improve soil health. In the case of cover crops, they are planted in the autumn following harvest, and retained until spring when a following crop is drilled, and use a ‘multi-species cover’ to improve soil structure and build soil organic matter. Legume fallows are in place for a year or more, and use leguminous crops such as clover to ‘fix’ nitrogen, helping to improve soil fertility. And herbal leys will often be grazed by livestock, and use a mix of herbs, grasses and legumes to improve soil structure, organic matter and soil carbon.

[7] Colin Chappell manages a 645 hectare arable farm on heavy clay soils in Lincolnshire. He has shifted to a no-till system to put soil health front and centre of the business, with more unproductive areas of the farm used for wildlife habitats. The change in system has significantly reduced emissions as a result of more efficient fertiliser use. He is available for further comment.

[8] As well as improving soil health and fertility, these measures can increase soil carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. Cover crops are also one of the main means used to reduce agricultural diffuse pollution to rivers and streams, as they hold nutrients on the field, stopping them and soil from flowing into watercourses during heavy rain. Cover crops can also provide important winter cover and breeding habitat for birds, and legume fallows are intended to provide an important sources of pollen and nectar for a range of pollinators and other invertebrates.



For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: +44 (0)7894 571 153, email: