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Rising fertilizer, fuel costs hurting Georgia farmers

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POSTED: March 23, 2012 9:34 a.m.

Those who recently have done gardening or lawn maintenance probably have noticed the price of fertilizer has increased exponentially.

According to Liberty County extension coordinator Robert E. Bell, the high cost of fertilizer — plus ever-increasing fuel costs — are hurting Georgia farm families and forcing many small agri-businesses to give up the family land and occupation that has sustained them for generations.

“What has happened is, there was a tremendous spike in fertilizer prices, mostly due to the increased cost of natural gas (used to make nitrogen fertilizers),” Bell said. “And though the production of natural gas has increased, the price has not decreased. That’s because demand for fertilizer (here and in developing countries) is higher. Even though we expect greater production yields this year, farmers’ gains will be lower due to increased costs.”

Bell said fuel costs are incurred three ways:

• Fuel is used to transport the raw material to make the fertilizer.

• Fuel is used to transport the finished product to distribution centers.

• More fuel costs then are added from running the farm equipment used to disperse the fertilizer, plant and harvest the crops.

“There are fewer and fewer farmers in Georgia, but farms are getting larger,” Bell said, noting that the larger farms usually are corporate farms. “To keep their farms, most family farmers are taking on part-time jobs and diversifying their crops. They’re building their own storage facilities to buy up and keep fertilizers when the price drops and to store their crops until the market price is high enough to make a profit.”

Bell said another change is that most Georgia farmers now are senior citizens.

The younger generation is not interested in maintaining the family farm or the struggles that go with it.

“Farming is still profitable, but farm profits have been reduced by as much as 12 to 20 percent,” he said. “Of course, there are still niche markets like our sweet Vidalia onions or (Lake Blackshear) watermelons. Some farmers have also turned a good part of their land into pine tree farms, which gives them a market for wood products and pine straw.”

Bell said many farmers stay in business by developing and following best management practices for weed and pest control.

Others are using global positioning systems to maximize operation of farm equipment, preventing overlapping of fertilizer or seed applications.

Bell, who has worked with University of Georgia Agriculture Extension Agency for 25 years and has been the Liberty County Coordinator for 16 years, said he assists both farmers and homeowners with anything related to the environment.

“One thing I tell people to help them save money on fertilizers is to have their soil tested,” he said. “If your soil is acidic, adding fertilizer won’t help. You may want to apply lime to raise the pH level. I also assist with information about controlling pests like moles and fire ants.”

For more information, call 876-2133 or email robbell@uga.edu.

 

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