Food on the Table: Farmers Struggle Amid Rising Inflation and Food Costs

by Clayton Edwards

Currently, inflation is at a record high and it’s hitting everyone. In recent months, consumers across the country have noticed a steady increase in their grocery bills and other expenses. However, those higher costs aren’t just for those buying meat, vegetables, and dairy products. Farmers who raise the animals and crops that end up in our grocery stores are also feeling the effects of inflation. They’re seeing higher costs to operate their businesses and those larger grocery bills aren’t necessarily helping them stay afloat.

At a Glance

  • Farmers deal with inflation when buying seeds, fertilizer, fuel, and more.
  • The Great Resignation is making it harder to hire farmhands.
  • Higher costs for farmers will translate to higher costs for consumers.
  • Those higher costs don’t translate to bigger paydays for farmers.

Inflation Makes Life Harder for Farmers

Many Americans never have to think about where their food comes from or what goes into getting it from the farm to the grocery store. That’s because farmers, meat packers, and production plants take care of all that in the background. When prices go up at the grocery store, it’s easy to imagine that everyone else is getting a little richer. However, that’s not the case. Farmers are feeling the pressure of inflation at every turn and few are seeing any benefit from it.

Putting Money in the Ground, Hoping It Will Grow

In Missouri, farmers are dealing with huge inflation-driven price jumps. Dave Theis, a fifth-generation farmer and current head of Theis Farm in St. Louis County spoke to a KSDK about the prices they’re seeing this year. “We’re looking at anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of our input costs being higher.”

Garret Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau spoke to the same outlet about the impact of inflation on farmers. “Everything we touch has increased in price, from a seed that we put in the ground to the herbicides that we will use to control the weeds. In some cases, farmers are paying nearly 300 percent more for fertilizer going into this spring growing season.”

Inflation Stampedes Over Cattle Farmers

Robert Doering, owner of Sarver Heritage Farm in Ronceverte, West Virginia spoke to WVNS about dealing with inflation. “How do you offset [inflation]? You do without,” the farmer said. “The roof does not get repaired, you only do what is most important, and I think that happens in every household.”

Doering also noted that meatpackers are making record profits this year. That money isn’t coming back to the farmers who raise the cattle.

Richard Snuffer owns Snuffer Farm. He spoke to the same local news outlet about the rising costs his cattle operation is seeing. “Last year, we paid probably $700 to $600 for a ton of fertilizer and it’s going to be $1,200 maybe $1,400 for the same fertilizer this year.”

For small cattle farmers like Snuffer, inflation presents a no-win scenario. “The price that we receive at the market for our cattle hasn’t really changed in the last year,” Snuffer said.

Farm Hands Are Hard to Find, Harder to Pay

Currently, we’re seeing a major shift in the American workforce. Countless people changed the way they looked at their relationship with work in 2020. The pandemic put many people out of a job. On the other hand, school closures forced some parents to stay home to take care of their children. As a result, people have learned to make things work with less money. In many cases, families made cuts to be able to function on a single income. At the same time, many Baby Boomers took early retirement and have no desire to return to the workforce.

However, those weren’t the only changes that workers made since the beginning of the pandemic. For years, American workers have been hearing “Why don’t you just get a better job?” So, they did. These days, most workers are looking for jobs that do more than give them bigger paychecks. They’re looking for good benefits, flexible hours, a work-life balance, and other perks. This exodus from unfulfilling jobs is being called The Great Resignation. It, combined with inflation, is making things even harder for farmers.

Jim Hlatky manages Pro-Ag Farmer’s Co-Op in West-Central Minnesota. He spoke to Ag Week about The Great Resignation. “My number one concern as a co-op manager is staffing and there’s this huge disconnect between what growers expect and what this new generation of employees will do,” he told the publication. Hlatky knows all about the hard work it takes to run a farm. He fondly remembers his early years as a hand on a dairy farm. That job offered Sundays off and two fifteen-minute breaks per day. Few of today’s workers would accept such a grueling schedule and shouldn’t have to.

In short, American Farmers are stuck between record-high inflation and a swiftly-changing workforce. This means that they’ll be paying more for everything and so will we.