Media missing the point in gloomy food price articles

When I became a field editor for Delta Farm Press, farmers were coming off one of the worst droughts ever. Temperatures rose above 100 degrees daily during most of July while no rainfall was recorded from late June until mid-August.

I remember traveling with Farm Press editor Glen Rutz to visit a farm outside Manila, Ark., later that year (1980). The gist of Glen's article: the farm operator saved his cotton yields with irrigation.

As we prepared to leave, I remember the farmer saying he was grateful he could produce a crop that year when others around him did not because of the drought. But he hoped he didn't have to do it that way very often because of the increased costs from pumping water.

This is the other side of the coin in all the noise you see in the national media about high commodity prices. Corn, wheat and soybean futures are as high as they've ever been, but so are prices of the crop inputs farmers buy.

I wrote not long ago that nitrogen fertilizer prices were expected to reach $700 per ton by fall. Within hours of that appearing on our Web sites, a reader e-mailed me he was paying $730 per ton.

A National Corn Growers release says growers' margins are returning to more normal levels. Example: Diesel costs 50 percent more this spring than last. Operating expenses could average $370 per acre or $50 more than 2007.

Not all producers are sharing in the higher prices. A farmer speaking at Commodity Classic in late February said he was delivering corn for $2.87 per bushel the following week. Growers who sold 2009 corn at $4 per bushel in 2007 now regret it.

All of this comes as the media blames farmers for food price increases of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent. According to them, higher prices for ethanol and wheat are responsible.

The U.S. Wheat Associates Alan Tracy put the increases in perspective at the Commodity Classic. After one company announced it was raising prices on its products 5 percent, Tracy said USWA calculated the cost of the wheat in them was less than 5 percent of the total value of the products.

Unfortunately, voices like those of Tracy are having a difficult time getting through all the chatter. NCGA leaders visited with the editorial board of the New York Times at month's end. We'll see what effect their dialogue had.

I began this column reminiscing about my first interview with Delta Farm Press because after nearly 28 years as an editor, I'm changing positions with our company. I plan to continue writing this column, but the frequency will be reduced as I assume other responsibilities.

I started after one of the worst droughts on record and am making this change in a period of the highest prices ever for most of the crops we cover. Not a bad ride, all in all.

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