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Good returns for farmers, but profits have dropped
by Jill Aho, Herald and News October 6, 2008

H&N photo by Andrew Mariman, Workers at Wong Potatoes work to keep up with incoming produce Friday. The slowing economy has had no negative effect on the business, according to owner Dan Chin.

While markets this year have been giving farmers good returns, rises in product costs such as fuel and fertilizer have reduced profits.

Chris Moudry, owner of Basin Fertilizer, said depending on the kind of fertilizer, increases have been between two and three times last year’s price. He said he’s never seen increases this great in 33 years in business.

“I was very surprised it went up as much as it did,” he said. “We projected a price increase and it just blew by that.”

 Multiple factors
Many factors contributed to the fertilizer increases, Moudry said.

Drought in Australia has led to worldwide shortages of grain stocks, leading more American farmers to plant grains. Add to that increased demand for the commodity in emerging countries such as India and China and the devaluation of the American dollar, and there is a price increase on the mostly imported, but highly used product.

Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, said programs encouraging alternative fuel production have led more farmers to grow crops that could be used for biofuels.

“The downside is ethanol, in part, is driving up corn prices,” he said. That means livestock owners are paying more to feed their animals.

Keppen, who fights to keep farmers in the forefront of water regulation policies, said he feels farmers in the Basin are unfairly targeted when water supplies threaten the ecosystem.

“That’s my biggest concern.  We’re not developing new water supplies so, by default, the farmer’s water is being taken,” he said.

And while it may seem as easy as changing the kind of crop a farmer grows to conserve water, Keppen puts it this way: “You don’t go to a guy in a restaurant and say ‘you need to stop selling food and start selling shoes because it uses less water.’ They know what they can grow here.”

Keppen said he sees more and more farmers taking advantage of conservation programs, although he said some do so out of necessity.

Farmers can get paid to plant vegetation along streams and to keep livestock out of water.

“I think farmers are the best stewards of the land,” he said.
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