Alabama’s farmers are being impacted by rising prices for the inputs that they use to grow the food and fiber that Americans need. High fuel prices mean that it is more expensive now to take their crop to market and to power the tractors and combines that plant the crops and harvest the hay and grains. High natural gas prices mean it is more expensive to keep chicks warm at night while soaring commodity prices make it more expensive than ever to keep the cows and the chickens fed.
Roland St.John owns C & R Feeds in St. Clair County. He and his family also have a cattle ranch. He is the former President of the St. Clair County Farmers Federation.
“Fertilizer is probably up 35 to 40%,” St.John said. “Fuel prices have doubled.
“Everything associated with farms and farming has gone up. It is really putting a strain on my row crop farmers and cattle farmers.”
Richard Meadows and his brother Glenn and their families run Meadows Creek Farm. They raise peanuts, corn, cotton, cattle, hay and other crops on their farm in Columbia, Alabama. They also raise purebred Charolais beef cattle, and Richard Meadows sells custom mineral mixes for livestock.
“Everything is higher: fuel, fertilizer, labor,” Richard Meadows said. “Even if you grow your own hay and your own grain, the cost of cranking up the tractor is higher. The fuel and fertilizer to grow it is more than it has ever been.”
Richard Meadows is a former President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.
Glenn Meadows said, “Our fuel costs have more than doubled. That is the biggest thing.”
Glenn Meadows explained that since peanuts are able to fixate their own nitrogen from the air (unlike other crops) the higher cost of fertilizer has not impacted the cost of planting them as much as with other crops.
“Now corn and cotton, that ain’t a pretty picture,” Glenn Meadows said.
“I put out less than the minimum (the recommended amount of fertilizer) on my hay fields, something I never do, and it still costed nearly $100 an acre,” Glenn Meadows told 1819 News. “The corn is going to be more than five times that.”
Kent Stanford is an Associate Extension Professor & Extension Specialist with Auburn University and is assigned to the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center.
“It is not a pretty picture,” Stanford said. “Some of us have calculated that growing bermudagrass hay takes $700 an acre out of the ground in nutrients at these prices.”
Feeding cow herds through the winter will be expensive.
“We are advising our producers to extend their grazing season to 300 days through rotational grazing and the planting of winter annuals,” Stanford said.
“The price of parts and the availability of parts is another big factor,” Glenn Meadows said. “You can’t get anything fixed, because they (tractor repair shops) don’t have the employees like they used to have.
“Last year there were shortages of Roundup [a glyphosate herbicide commonly used in many bioengineered crops]. Roundup has gone from about $20 a gallon to about $50 a gallon. Fungicides for the peanuts is going to be another issue.”
Glenn Meadows said that the cotton and corn prices the farmers are receiving are higher now than they have ever been, but that the brothers are almost through with planting, and they still don’t have a contract for the peanuts that they are growing.
“Seed has [gone] through the roof,” St.John said. “I can’t pinpoint why.
“Garden seed has gone up due to a series of crop failures. If vegetable and grass seed does not germinate at least 85% then the Department of Agriculture will not allow it to be sold. Crop failures out west where the seed is grown [have] resulted in much of the seed crop failing to test out.”
St.John says is a big factor in costs.
“Freight is a big driver in price,” St.John said. “Our fuel surcharge price is 88 cents a mile. I buy my bagged shavings out of Texas and my freight cost was $2,400. That is before the cost of the shavings. I am about to get a load of feed out of Ohio and the freight cost is $1,900.”
Stanford confirms fuel is a huge factor.
“Diesel has gone from less than $2 a gallon to $6 a gallon,” Stanford said. “That is a dramatic increase.”
St.John thinks the big box stores are affecting his costs too.
“A lot of our grain haulers have figured that they could just drop those grain trailers and start hauling freight to the big box stores because of the shortage of trucks,” St.John explained. “You can’t get ingredients. Cargill is the largest feed grain producer in the world and even they are having a hard time getting ingredients.
“There is a shortage of pet food. Every feed mill is weeks if not months behind.”
Richard Meadows said that there is a similar situation in feed minerals.
“There is no rhyme or reason in what they will be out of,” Richard Meadows said. “You can get one mix one week and not be able to get it the next week.”
Farmers grow their own hay and feed grains and then mix in custom mineral mixes to balance the rations for all of the nutrients that their farm animals need.
Stanford said that the high cost of corn is causing the big companies that own the chickens in Alabama to adjust their rations to use alternative feed ingredients.
With the labor shortage, self-driving tractors offer a solution that previously would have been laughable.
“There aren’t any around here,” Glenn Meadows replied. “Five years ago, I would have laughed at something like that, but now, given the labor situation, that might be needed.”
“We are not getting any answers out of Washington on how to solve any of this,” St.John said.
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