Motorists nationwide have had to pay more as political volatility and increased global demand push up gas prices, said Ron Planting, an economist with the American Petroleum Institute. A barrel of crude oil now sells for as much as $55, up from $35 at this time last year.
But farmers are the ones caught in a "three-way whammy," said Keith Nilmeier, who just finished harvesting his 185 acres of oranges outside of Fresno. Farmers are squeezed by higher prices for the diesel fuel that runs their tractors and irrigation equipment, by the higher costs for petroleum-based fertilizers, and by the higher cost of transporting farm goods to market.
"We're the bottom link on this whole chain, and we have no one to pass our costs on to," Nilmeier said. "We just have to take it and try to keep going."