Local farmers hurt by inflation

By: 
Serena Bettis with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Via the Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — In an already challenging industry, farmers in southeastern Wyoming are feeling the brunt of inflation and record-high fuel prices. 

The average diesel fuel price in Wyoming is up to $5.70 per gallon, according to AAA. Feed and fertilizer costs have risen sharply, as well. 

Farmers in Albany and Laramie counties said in interviews this past week that while their profit margins are decreasing, they are not yet in a spot where they need to shut down. They are making adjustments so that doesn’t happen. 

Brian Lee, a University of Wyoming research scientist in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, said he has not heard of producers who are thinking of renting their ground or not farming it. 

“For this year, I think producers will … absorb the increased costs,” Lee said. “I don’t see any short-term changes in farming or decisions to farm based on the increased prices from this year.” 

While profit margins are frequently small in ag, this year is particularly hard, many local farmers said. 

To counteract this, they are trying to plan further ahead, adjust their business model and be extra conscious about costs. 

High fuel prices are one of the biggest issues local farmers face because they impact just about every aspect of their operation. 

For some, total diesel fuel costs could range from $40,000 to $80,000 this year, compared with $20,000 to $30,000 in years past, said Brett Moline, director of governmental and public affairs with the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation. 

Moline noted trucking and freight costs are increasing, as well. He said farmers typically pay for the cost to bring goods in and send product back out. 

Jim Lerwick, co-owner of Lerwick Farms in Albin, said farmers always “try to be positioned for whatever happens.” 

Lerwick said he contracted enough fuel last year for a supply of about 1 and 2/3 years, so he made it through 2021 in good shape and will make it through most of this year. His fuel price is still higher, but it has not increased as much as it could have.

“There’s not much to do at this point,” Lerwick said. “If you don’t have (fuel) secured, you either use less by driving less and farming less, or you just hope you cover the costs.” 

BJ Bender, co-owner and founder of Taste of the Wind farm in Laramie, said she is trying to take fewer, more efficient trips into town and line up animal feed ahead of time to cut costs so she doesn’t have to raise her own prices too much. 

However, she said she will have to raise her prices starting in the second half of the summer. Otherwise, she would likely go out of business. 

“We’ve eaten a lot of the costs because we know it’s hard for everyone right now,” Bender said. “That’s something I’m pretty passionate about is making sure people have access to good food. It’s a bummer that cost is a barrier, but we’re trying to keep it as manageable as we can.” 

Bender said she has been looking into the idea of exporting some products to other farms to save on costs. Taste of the Wind raises lambs, chickens, eggs and pigs, and Bender said it has looked at working with another local farm that can raise pigs more efficiently. 

The cost of shipping products has doubled, Bender said, and the price of shipping materials has gone up by about a third. 

Inflation is everywhere in ag, and the cost of feed, fertilizer and other chemicals is making it difficult for local farms to operate like normal. 

Another Laramie farmer, Patrick Buenger, said inflation is impacting every aspect of his business. 

Buenger is the owner-founder of Sheep Mountain Livestock, which raises pigs for meat and for show. Buenger said he has noticed the cost of feed goes up every two to four weeks when he goes to the store. Fuel prices are also hurting his business, because it’s more expensive each time to transport pigs to the butcher or have a veterinarian visit the farm. 


“It’s to the point where the costs of input are so high for a small operation like ours, it’s not profitable at all for us to do what we’re doing right now,” Buenger said. 

He raised the price of live hogs in the last six months. He does not plan to increase the price of show hogs, because it sells those to Albany County kids in 4-H. 

Looking to the future, Buenger said he is worried about raising prices too much because people will not buy his product. He added that the current inflation issues put pressure on all businesses, and it’s going to cause everyone to start cutting costs, which could include layoffs. 

“It’s a circular problem, because higher prices equal higher prices equal more higher prices,” Buenger said. “It gets out of control at some point, and the system just can’t handle it. That’s why inflation is so dangerous.” 

Lerwick and others expressed frustration at the handling of the economy by the federal government and said there is not much local people can do at this point to make the situation better. 

“It goes to show just how international our economy and our country are anymore that fertilizer and chemicals that come from different countries can impact local production,” Lee said. “We’ve seen that with Russia being a large supplier of certain fertilizers.” 

Buenger said that while it’s a good idea to shop local and try to keep parts of the supply chain more local, he doesn’t think that is a solution to the current problem. 

“It’s federal government policies that have driven (inflation) so quickly, and no one at the federal level seems interested in reversing course to get back where we were two or three years ago,” Buenger said. 

Both Bender and Lerwick said eventually farmers are going to need to start producing less, which means there will be less for consumers to buy. 

“We can only absorb so much of the inflation before we do less,” Lerwick said. “We plant less and harvest less, and it’s just an economic game, but the consumers are feeling it, too. The prices are up for them in about every area.” 

Bender said she knows farmers who didn’t buy fertilizer this year because it was too expensive or too difficult to find. With drought conditions worsening across the state, Bender said that will severely impact future production. 

To help reduce the impact of inflation on communities, Bender said she thinks consumers can plan ahead, buy in bulk and work with their neighbors to ensure they have enough food and are supporting local farmers. 

“You can go in on a large amount of product with your neighbors to share that cost and that amount so that you can get products now while the prices are lower than they will be,” Bender said. “That helps us as producers, as well, because when you at least let us know, ‘I need a quarter of beef for the fall,’ I’m not going to sell all my animals off … because I know I have that animal sold.”

 

 

This story was published on June 26, 2022.

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