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Fuel Costs Add Insult To Injury
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- If you thought it was hard paying to fill up your car, try buying diesel for a farm tractor to plant crops that may not sell for enough to cover total production costs.
Tom Jones, agricultural economist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said farm fuel prices are running at least 55 percent higher than they did last year. While market prices have improved since last fall enough to soften the blow, crop prices remain below adequate levels.
"In 1999, it took about 9 gallons of diesel to produce an acre of corn, 5 gallons for soybeans and 15 gallons for cotton," Jones said. "With last year's diesel prices around 64 cents, that would balance out fuel costs to about $5.60 per acre for corn, $3.08 for soybeans and $9.79 for cotton. Current fuel bill prices add about $4 per acre to corn, $2 to soybeans and $7 to cotton."
Those prices do not include irrigation or chemical and fertilizer costs. For cotton, the impact would be more since harvesters make a second picking. Diesel irrigation pumps consume even more fuel.
"This year is going to be a tighter situation in what was already pretty tight because of the markets," Jones said. "The luckiest farmers will be the ones who purchased their diesel last fall before the prices shot up or use conservation tillage practices."
Erick Larson, Extension corn specialist, said fuel costs depend greatly on the tillage method used. For years, agronomists have been encouraging farmers to reduce tillage for agricultural reasons in addition to conserving fuel costs.
"We don't sacrifice corn yield by reducing tillage operations," Larson said. "On the other hand, reduced tillage systems benefit crop profitability by saving moisture, time, labor and fuel expenses."
The fuel prices will encourage more farmers to apply multiple inputs such as fertilizer and herbicides on the same trip over the crop.
Contact: Dr. Tom Jones, (662) 325-1788