High cost of energy hurts local farmers

NORTH CAROLINA — Farmer Steve Fullam feels a little more pinched every year.

Fullam, like thousands of farmers across the country, is trying to cope with a dwindling income as higher energy prices cut a deep swath through his profits.

The Hendersonville farmer, who owns 220 milk cows plus dozens more that don’t yet produce milk, has seen his bills for fuel and fertilizer shoot up dramatically in the last year. Fullam also grows corn to feed his cows.

“The price we’re getting now (for milk) isn’t much more than we were getting 15, 20 years ago,” he said. “Last year milk prices were good, but it was so wet we had to buy a lot of grain. Everything we buy is higher, but the price of fertilizer and fuel is the worst. … It’s a struggle all the time.”

Corn, cotton and rice growers and dairy, poultry and hog farmers are seeing the biggest increases in their costs because their farms are especially energy intensive in a time when energy prices are skyrocketing

Between 2003 and 2005, farmers’ overall fuel and fertilizer bill rose by 47 percent according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year, farmers’ energy bills are projected to climb another $1.7 billion over last year, according to USDA estimates.

Growers use more nitrogen fertilizer, made from natural gas, and fuel for irrigation systems and operating farm equipment. Dairy, hog and poultry farmers use more fuel for heating and equipment.

So growers “are screaming a blue streak” over higher energy bills, said Arizona grower Kevin Rogers, who farms 7,000 acres of mostly cotton. Farmers are “price takers, not price makers,” he said.

“It affects us on a daily basis and it puts our budgets out of whack,” said Rogers, who is president the Arizona Farm Bureau. “It was impossible to see what was coming.”

Source: Asheville Citizen-Times
calendar icon 27 February 2006
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