High Fuel Prices Hit Farmers, Food Supply Hard
Contributing Editor Scott Angle
For many years commodity and food prices have been so low itís been
hard for American farmers to make a profit and consequently a decent
living for their families. Like any business, no profit means farmers
will go out of business, forcing food production overseas.
None of us wants food production to go the way of oil. Today, we must
rely on often-unfriendly countries to supply much of our energy needs.
We see the consequences of that situation at the gas pump as just the
potential for tightened supply causes prices to soar.
The U.S. has about an 11-day food supply within our massive food
chain. One can only imagine the consequences if we allowed China and
Brazil to grow our food and they decide for political reasons to no
longer send us that food.
Right now, commodity and food prices have risen. Many farmers could
make a decent living based on the actual price received for the food
they produce. Prices for Georgia cotton, pecans and peanuts are at or
near a record high. Even Georgia peaches are likely to fetch record
prices this summer.
But, just as our farmers are getting to the point where they can make
a decent living from food prices, another issue has come into play.
Input costs have risen so rapidly and so dramatically that itís
unlikely many of our farmers can continue to make a decent living.
Instability in the energy market affects more than the price of gas
for our cars.
Far-reaching input impact
The price of fuel to plow fields, nitrogen to fertilize crops and
grain to feed livestock has increased at alarming rates over the past
year. There seems to be no end in sight to the increases of these
vital agricultural inputs. In particular, Georgiaís poultry industry,
the largest poultry industry in the U.S., is having an increasingly
difficult time as the cost of feed, primarily corn, skyrockets.
High food and commodity prices have given some farmers a chance to
finally rely less on government-support programs. Yet, with increased
costs, these programs will have to be reinstated to keep our farmers
in business and food production growing in the U.S.
The only real and long-lasting solution is to reduce inputs used in
traditional agriculture. We need to find ways to reduce fertilizers,
pesticides and water (since it requires fuel to pump ground water)
used to grow crops. The cost of feed and medicine to keep our animals
healthy also needs to be reduced.
Research holds the key
Who will conduct the necessary research to find ways to reduce inputs
needed to grow our food? Private industry has no economic incentive to
reduce input costs, because it will deflate their bottom line. It is
difficult to imagine a fertilizer company sponsoring research to
reduce the reliance of our farmers on the very product the company
Itís equally difficult to see the federal government, which supports
competitive research to solve problems, willingly address some of
these real-world issues. Federally funded research tends to focus on
high-minded, long-term societal needs. This is certainly important and
needed research, yet it doesnít broadly address todayís agricultural
Itís unlikely that federally sponsored research will help our farmers
adjust to the new reality of extremely high input costs, at least in
the short term. And, the short term is going to determine who remains
Research to reduce input costs for food production falls squarely on
our nationís land-grant university system. The University of Georgia
and Fort Valley State University are two of the premier land-grant
universities in the country with a direct mandate to help our farmers
stay in business and produce food for Georgia, the nation and the
In the driverís seat
The land-grant system in Georgia is fully capable of providing needed
research to help reduce our farmersí input costs. We can translate and
transfer that information through Cooperative Extension to farming
communities when and where itís most needed. Supporting the land-grant
mission of the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University
is more important now than ever.
As the world cries out for more food, we need to double world food
production by the year 2050. Agriculture is Georgiaís largest industry
with a strong infrastructure that is setting us well on the way to
becoming the breadbasket of the world.
It is clear Georgia will play a major role in feeding the world.
With a deepened Port of Savannah and a widened Panama Canal, we are
ideally situated to grow the food and reap the economic benefits this
great industry can provide. However, we will only compete and be
successful if we remain on the cutting edge of research, training of
the next generation of students and transferring that information to
the farming communities who implement these new practices.
(Article courtesy of UGA. J. Scott Angle is dean and director of the
University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental
Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-552-4461 / 706-540-0032
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