Fighting for the farms: A look on rural farming communities in the battle of inflation

Published 12:24 pm Thursday, May 4, 2023

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By LIZZIE BOWEN | Staff Writer

Local farming communities have been taking a hit as prices of supply continue on an upward skyrocket increase due to inflation, today, these farmers from local communities in the Shelby County area are speaking out about what their experiences have been like battling these forever rising prices.

Recently, this caught the attention of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who asked for a call to action to meet the needs of local farming communities in Alabama.

Tuberville has been seeking better broadband in rural, farming areas, but farmers have voiced their needs in many different facets of the farming industry.

Tuberville discussed rural broadband, the poultry industry, export markets for agriculture and access to financing for farmers and producers.

“Alabama’s hardworking farmers and producers continue to face an uphill battle as they work to feed our nation. Inflation is skyrocketing and input costs continue to rise for feed, fuel, fertilizer and equipment—which cut producers’ bottom lines,” Tuberville said. “Bottom line: we’re struggling. Despite producers’ daily struggles to operate their farms and maintain their livelihoods, this administration is not seeking to help. From my viewpoint, the USDA is only focusing on two areas: issuing increases in SNAP and obsessing over climate change. This Farm Bill will have a price tag of over $1.4 trillion, with over $1.2 trillion of it going to SNAP benefits. We cannot lose sight of the importance of this Farm Bill, for the next five years, for our farmers and producers all across our country.”

During Tuberville’s hearing with Senate Agriculture Committee, he reiterated the importance of farmers within rural communities and society as a whole as well as acknowledged the hard work that often goes unseen.

“Our producers need a strong Farm Bill with sufficient funding for crop insurance and farm safety net programs like ARC and PLC that keep our hardworking famers whole,” Tuberville said. “We must ensure each producer remains in charge of what operations occur within their own farmland and forestland. All conservation programs must remain voluntary, market-driven and incentive based.”

 Local farmers feel the impact

Ashley Medders of Medders Family Farm in Montevallo, said the rising cost of inflation has had a direct impact on her ability to farm and produce products.

“We have seen between processing fees and gas to take things to processing, things have gone up 50 cents to 80 cents a pound on certain products that we sell,” Medders said. “Even then, we aren’t making near the profit. Several other farmers have it worse than we do. They can’t make what they used to. They’re selling more, and just breaking even.”

Medders said she is aware of the bill Tubberville is working on to pass and sees it as a necessity for farming and rural communities to thrive. Medders also expressed hesitance is hoping that a change will come to farmers.

“I am hesitant to think anything is going to happen,” Medders said. “We need it. I was looking back even the last few days and realized some of the times we were able to get a jump ahead was when there were a lot of incentives for businesses and farms during COVID. It helped, and if it wasn’t for that giving us that boost at that particular moment, I’m not sure where we’d be now. We used that in a smart manner, the farms I know that didn’t put things in place to prevent this issue from happening are still struggling.”

These incentives given to farmers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is what is currently cushioning the blow of inflation during this time and giving farmers the ability to stay afloat. But, Medders reiterated that many of them are just barely staying afloat.

“We have gone toward a full pasture,” Medders said. “We do a lot more non-GMO feed and produce for our pigs. We have turned the pigs loose in the pastures and allowed them to graze in the pastures. That has kind of offset the feed bill.”

Getting help from the community

Medders said that reaching out to the local community within the Shelby County area has always aided in reducing prices whether it be asking individuals for help, getting help from customers or help from local grocery stores.

“We’ve done what we can to get donations along the lines of extra produce at the grocery stores if they have things that are starting to spoil, members of the community have saved scraps from cutting vegetables and during October, many people will bring pumpkins after Halloween for the pigs to eat,” Medders said. “We’ve asked if you have these things and want to bring them by to feed the pigs, we would love it. It’s going to go to waste, and at this point, it is better to do that than to buy feed at the cost of transport and cost of feed.”

Medders said the donations given by the community are lifesavers, and the pumpkin donations specifically, are the gift that keeps on giving.

“The first week in November, my front gate looks like a pumpkin farm,” Medders said. “A lot of people drop them off at the gate, my kids load the tractor and take the pumpkins from the gate to the animals. We had pumpkins sprouting at the gate this year because we had so many little seeds from the rotten pumpkins. We have a few different families that do fresh cooking and they will save all their trimming ends. My parents save any bread that is going bad, vegetates, bananas, fruits and onions. We have multiple families that know that our pigs and chickens need it. They make a scrap back and come once or twice a month depending on what they have.”

Some families and customers who know her will sometimes walk directly to her animals to feed them while others will leave their donations at the front gate. She is appreciative for all the support from the community.

“It has helped,” Medders said. “It has made a dent. We still do have to buy feed, but it has made a change in how we do things here.”

It is not uncommon for farmers to reach out and ask other communities for help, and Medders said many farmers will reach out to local breweries as well for help at times.

“I know a lot of breweries use the stint grans,” Medders said. “I know several that will go to the breweries and collect. Many have accounts with discount bread stores. A lot of the farmers utilize waste from businesses that can’t be used for benefit.”

If a farmer is lucky enough to partner with a local business, brewery or grocery stores, Medders said they will make weekly rounds collecting the waste and extras from produce, milk and bread contents as long as the store does not have an agreement to return expired items to the company directly.

Is there an answer?

Thomas Stockburger from Triple SSS farms said his farm has also been impacted by inflation due as well, but feels not much can be done to combat these rising prices except for raising price of goods.

“We had to increase prices on some of our goods,” Stockburger said. “We don’t have a whole lot of control over that. You just hope you can make ends meet.”

Rob Rogers of Ruby Ranch echoes the sentiments of fellow farmers in the inability to keep up with the price of feed for animals. Rogers currently buys feed out of Demopolis and had to do research in order to seek the cheapest prices available in the market.

“Our largest input cost is feed,” Rogers said. “It has probably gone up about 25 percent. We’ve been shopping around trying to find the best feed. Instead of buying a manufactured feed, we do business with South Fresh as they custom blend.”

Rogers said the feed he purchases from South Fresh is around $15 per bag whereas a name brand bag would be closer to $20 per bag currently.

Rogers has a farm of White-Tailed Deer which are bred and kept on his property. He runs the operation similar to cattle, and the deer require supplemental feeding. Rogers said this type of supplemental feeding can be expensive, and although animals such as cattle also require this feeding, The deer are a more specific animal that need to be more specifically catered to.

The feed for the deer consists mostly of grain, and price of grain tends to fluctuate vastly throughout the year.

“You can’t get a price on a particular feed product due to the market,” Rogers said. “With the times we’re having now, it’ll increase or decrease. We buy about two months of feed at a time. When you place an order, then two months later, you place an order and it’s gone up 25 percent, there’s nothing you can do. Nothing can be done about that.”

Shipping costs have now nearly doubled for famers that do not transport their own feed. Rogers this rapid price increase is why Ruby Ranch buys feed in bulk.

“We’re trying to save as much shipping cost as we can,” Rogers said. “Ideally, we would get it delivered weekly or monthly so it stays as optimal freshness, but with transporting cost, you have to cut corners and do whatever you have to do to meet your bottom line.”

Rogers said the increasing of prices have been gradual, but he did begin to notice a spike in cost around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Prices started increasing just all around the board,” Rogers said. “Everything has gotten so expensive.”

Montevallo based farm, Alabama Acres is currently taking a break from selling to the public due to inflation and shortages. Upon checking their website, “We’re taking a break. Please check back for updates,” is listed across the front page of the site.

Medders of Medders Family Farm advocates strongly for customers to consider buying farm bought quality products as opposed to the grocery stores even as prices become more competitive within chain stores and local farms.

“We let our quality speak for itself,” Medders said. “It’s the same across the board, anything we do, our quality will rival anything at the grocery store, and you’re going to be guaranteed that anything that comes off our farm, and most local farms, has been hand-raised from the time it was on the farm until the time it goes. I can guarantee with local farms, it is going to be a quality you’re not going to get at the grocery store.”

The general consensus of many in the area of Shelby County is to utilize what resources are accessible in order to reduce the hit from inflation. These options include accepting donations of all forms from the surrounding community and partnering with local companies to reduce transportation fees and charges. Throughout all the blows, farmers in the Shelby County community remain strong.