Rising fertilizer costs may lead to food price hikes, Ohio farmers say

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Posted at 5:46 PM, May 31, 2022

CLARKSVILLE, Ohio — Soaring fertilizer costs could bring more food price hikes, farmers said.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden said his administration plans to double spend on domestic fertilizer production to ease the strain.

"We have to keep investing in our farmers," Biden said May 11 while touring a farm in Kankakee, Illinois.

Still, with U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing food prices on the rise for 17 straight months, Don Tharr thinks another spike will follow.

"Who wants to work and say, oh good, I broke even," Tharr said. "That doesn't feed anybody."

The problem can in part be tied to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian exports are key to the fertilizer industry, but Tharr said other mines that supply essential elements are to blame for producing too little.

Tharr, along with his sons, runs Black Walnut Farm — a 2,000-acre operation in Warren County.

"We have to invest more money into technology to become more efficient or you would soon be out," he said.

The fertilizer in Tharr's storage barn cost him $120,000 two years ago. The same amount costs him close to half a million now. For other farmers, that price is enough to no longer use the product and live with smaller yields. In other parts of the country, some farmers are changing what they grow.

"You can shoot yourself in the foot and say well I'm not going to really put any down," Tharr said. "That's a temporary fix. But then the next year you better replace that or you can just look at the graph and watch the yields drop."

Inside each of Tharr's fertilizer spreaders, he mounted computers that control the rate of fertilizer distribution. The program is based on color-coded maps developed by engineers who calculated how much fertilizer each zone requires for optimal growth.

It was no small investment, however, it is the only way he affords fertilizing every soybean and cornfield. Part of his crops sell to feedlots around the country. So, anyone consuming chicken, pork, beef or dairy is paying extra too.

"The bacon that's put on the burger at Burger King came from a pig that ate the corn that was grown in Ohio or Indiana or Kentucky," said Tharr. "You'll go wasn't that $2 last week and it's $2.49. There is no shortage (of food) yet. There's one coming, but it's not here yet."

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