Southwest Colorado farmers adjust to rising prices – The Durango Herald
Inflation, the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have led to an increase in fertilizers, animal feed
Almost weekly, gas prices rise, as do prices in many facets of life in southwest Colorado.
For farmers and herders, the effects of inflation, the war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic are even more pronounced. The costs of fertilizers, animal feed and nearly every input they depend on for their operations have skyrocketed over the past year. As prices soared, they compounded the drought challenges for farmers.
But as the farming community in southwestern Colorado adjusts, some point to practices that have shielded their operations from the worst effects of rising prices.
“It feels like everywhere, everything is getting more expensive,” said Tyler Hoyt, who runs and owns Green Table Farm at Mancos.
Hoyt grows a variety of vegetables and raises chickens, pigs and goats. He feeds his chickens and pigs a mixture of wheat, corn, sunflower seed pellets, calcium and Austrian field peas.
With the war in Ukraine disrupting agriculture in the country and Russia, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s wheat production, prices for the wheat that Hoyt includes in his diet have risen dramatically.
“A bag of wheat went from $11 to $18 virtually overnight,” he said.
Hoyt saw the biggest jump in animal feed, but the price of diesel also rose, as did the cost of hay.
In response, he had to make changes to his operation and raise the prices of produce he sells at the Durango Farmer’s Market.
“We have certainly reduced the number of copies of the best possible hay. We really have to shop around to try and find a price where we’re not going to lose money,” he said.
Eggs went from $7 to $8, lettuce from $4 to $5, and apple juice from $20 to $22.
When Hoyt raised the prices of its products a few years ago, customers at the farmer’s market questioned those increases. But amid global disruption and inflation, its buyers recognized the need.
“This time when we went from $7 to $8 (for eggs), I didn’t hear anything,” he said. “I think people have kind of accepted that this is the way things are right now and there’s really not much you can do about it.”
Heidi Rohwer operates the Rohwer Farm near Yellow Jacket with her family where they grow fruits and vegetables and raise chickens, turkeys, sheep and pigs.
The costs of Rohwer’s pots and potting mixes have risen over the past year, as have the prices of its seeds. Anything that requires dispatch has increased, if they were dispatched in the first place. With supply chain disruptions and shortages, some of Rohwer’s suppliers failed to ship everything she ordered.
“Most things have gone from 20% to 50%,” she said.
At Basin Coop in Durango and near Cortez, prices for almost all farm supplies have inflated.
Fertilizers have risen dramatically, although over the past 30 days prices have eased as farmers have finished fertilizing their fields, said Don Dukart, president and CEO of Basin Coop.
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, fertilizer costs in April, the most recent monthly data available, rose 71% from the same period last year.
As Ukraine is a major producer of corn in addition to wheat, feed costs have risen significantly. Purina’s Equine Senior, a popular horse feed, now costs more than $28 per bag on the farm, up from about $21.50 last year, Dukart said.
Prices for fencing and any product containing steel have skyrocketed, and even vaccines have gone up 10-15%.
Basin Coop struggles to get just the agricultural products it needs, and when it does, prices are tough with markups from manufacturers forcing the co-op to quickly change prices, Dukart said.
“I am surprised that our sales are still very good. People are still buying,” he said. “Of course, if you are a farmer, you have to have the inputs. It’s not like you can’t buy diesel fuel.
Dukart said the lasting impacts of the pandemic also play a role.
“Now that things are reopening and people want to spend money, there’s just no supply there,” he said. “Supply and demand: The demand is much higher than the supply, so the price goes up. It’s kind of a combination.
For farmers and ranchers in southwestern Colorado, the high costs are compounding the effects of the prolonged drought, which was already making farming difficult.
In 2021, Rohwer’s Farm received 1.7 inches of water out of its allotted 22, forcing the farm to cut production by two-thirds, Rohwer said.
“We just decided to scale back a bit last year because we knew it was a bad year and we really weren’t expecting a good monsoon season,” Rohwer said. “I would say the drought is also causing the biggest problems on the farms around us.”
Hoyt attributed the rise in hay prices to the drought. Hay growers in the region have been limited to one or two cuts instead of three, and in some cases four without enough water, he said.
“Environmental factors are probably more expensive than diesel, which costs $1 more,” he said.
Sustainable agriculture helps offset disruption
Even as some farmers grapple with higher costs, others point to the benefits of their farming practices as a way to protect them from global and domestic disruption.
Max Fields and his partners operate Fields to Plate Produce north of Durango. The farm grows organic vegetables and raises sheep and cattle using regenerative techniques.
Fields relies on livestock to fertilize crops and does not buy food because farm animals are completely grass-fed.
“Grass feeds our animals, animals feed our crops and this circle continues year after year,” he said. “We’ve got equipment and tractors to run, and of course it’s cost more, but I think we’re able to bounce back a lot easier from that kind of inflation, because we’re just not not very dependent on outside inputs.”
Hoyt does not use conventional fertilizers, making his own fertilizer on his farm, which has also shielded him from significantly increased costs.
Fields said the effects of inflation and global unrest on agriculture have revealed the benefits of regenerative agriculture.
“It kind of shows the world that this type of agriculture is something that can sustainably feed the world,” he said.
For farmers and ranchers adjusting to rising costs, help could arrive later this summer. Some of Basin Coop’s suppliers have suggested that prices and supplies will decrease in the coming months, Dukart said.
“Some of these steel prices will come back after production resumes. It has to be. People can’t stand that,” he said.
But even if prices drop, the relief for some southwestern Colorado farmers will likely be fleeting.
“More than price increases and inflation, I feel like environmental factors are a much bigger thing to pay attention to and adapt to,” Hoyt said. “You really have to be on your feet thinking seriously about what the future might look like, and it probably won’t be any better than it is right now.”