Iowa Public Television


Alabama Farmers Face High Prices and Expenses

posted on March 7, 2008

MOBILE, Ala. - Encouraged by record crop prices in Alabama's farm forecast, growers must find the money to start planting while at the same time avoid being hit with rocketing costs for fuel, fertilizer, seeds and equipment.

The drought also lingers as a threat to the state's multimillion-dollar farm economy and a late-season freeze would be a setback. A late, hard freeze last Easter weekend reduced wheat and corn yields in some parts of the state.

But it's the cost of farming that's a major threat.

Auburn University farm economist Robert Goodman said the price of fertilizer this year has almost doubled. The price of some varieties of seed also has doubled and soybean seeds are in short supply.

"Everybody knows what the price of fuel has done," Goodman said.

While farmers decide what to plant, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's projection for record prices for wheat, corn and soybeans presents an opportunity for profit, depending on weather conditions.

The state's winter wheat seedings for this year were estimated at 170,000 acres - up 50,000 acres from last year and the most acreage seeded since 2001, according to USDA, which projects a 6 percent increase nationwide in domestic wheat use.

Growers have been meeting with their bankers to decide how much planting money to borrow as expenses soar.

In north Alabama, Buster Thornton of Rogersville said he recently paid $3 a gallon for farm diesel - about $1 higher than last year's fuel cost.

He expects to plant cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans on his 4,500 acres. "Most will be cotton," he said.

Thornton said he was stunned by his herbicides cost that jumped from $28 a gallon last year to $56.

In Foley, farm equipment dealer Larry Blackmon said growers in Mobile and Baldwin counties are good managers and crop prices this year represent a "great opportunity," despite higher expenses.

"They'll be handling a ton of money," Blackmon said, pointing to fertilizer costs that jumped from about $300 a ton last year to $700.

With 1,000 acres in wheat, Doug Lipscomb, president of James Lipscomb and Sons, Inc. in Magnolia Springs, said, "We'll be able to make a profit. It's not like cost has outrun return."

He said it's not a "gloom and doom" scenario this year, but, he said, "major inflation" has hit agriculture, with fuel at record highs. Lipscomb said he's been farming for 26 years, including sod, wheat and soybeans.

The typical wheat farmer in Alabama will harvest that crop in June, then decide whether or not to double crop with soybeans and cotton, AU's Goodman said.

If there's sufficient rainfall, the grower will plant a different crop. If not, the field will go unplanted. There were many examples of parched cropless fields in last year's drought conditions.

Corn planting begins in a few weeks. Corn growers are attracted by the ethanol industry, which has expanded production.

Tags: agriculture Alabama farmers money news