Fertiliser industry faces possible scrutiny by EU

Complaint to competition regulators follows pricing concerns highlighted by farmers

Fertiliser suppliers face possible scrutiny following a complaint to European Union authorities from one producer. Irish fertiliser prices remain higher than in the UK despite an easing in energy costs over the last year, sparking concern among farmers, who have raised the issue with politicians and regulators.

Organic producer Supersoil confirmed on Wednesday that it has lodged a complaint against the Republic’s chemical fertiliser suppliers with EU authorities alleging anticompetitive practices.

Supersoil made the complaint earlier this month to the European Commission’s competition directorate, which acknowledged receiving the complaint on March 12th. The company’s complaint is against the industry and the Fertilizer Association of Ireland, a body whose council and board include representatives of leading suppliers in the Republic. The group did not respond to requests for a comment on Wednesday.

Supersoil claims there is evidence of cartel-like behaviour in the industry, including uniform pricing, barriers to entry and collusion. The company says that it has also named State agriculture and food development authority Teagasc in the complaint on the grounds that it is involved in the Fertilizer Association of Ireland, with representation on its board.


Teagasc did not comment directly on the company’s claims about the industry, but the organisation did note that Supersoil’s products performed poorly against rivals in recent tests of different fertilisers carried out by the authority.

However, Anthony Woods, Supersoil’s chief executive, said that he had challenged Teagasc’s findings, arguing, among other things that the authority tested the company’s products under different conditions to those that applied when it examined other fertilisers.

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Fertiliser prices rose sharply here as energy costs soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, but failed to fall as they have done in other jurisdictions since last year.

In January prices for urea, a key product, averaged €504 a tonne in the Republic against €417 in the UK. Supersoil maintains that farmers close to the Border get better deals as the same products are cheaper in the North. However, those further south face higher costs, the company says.

Farmers raised the issue of high fertiliser costs with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine last year, triggering calls from members, including chairman Jackie Cahill TD, for an investigation of the industry.

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) attended the committee hearing. It subsequently submitted its opening statement to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), and wrote to the regulator’s then chairman Jeremy Godfrey. The association says that the commission responded looking for further evidence. The CCPC itself does not comment on individual complaints or submissions.

The ICMSA’s submission confirms the gap in prices between the Border counties and those further south. For example, the document written last April shows farmers in southern counties quoted between €730 and €760 a tonne for urea.

The average UK price at the time was around €530 a tonne. In the Republic the average was €700 a tonne.

Fertiliser use is falling on Irish farms, according to official figures, partly a result of high prices but also because of the push to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine says that nitrogen use, key to greenhouse gas output, slipped 18 per cent to 280,569 tonnes by the final quarter of last year. Teagasc maintains that this is well below the 2030 target for nitrogen use, which is 300,000.

According to the Central Statistics Office, total fertiliser sales in the Republic fell 18 per cent to 1.4 million tonnes during 2022.


Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas