The perfect storm
Published 6:04 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2022
By Westley B. Drake
In the 2000 film, “The Perfect Storm” the captain and crew of the Andrea Gail, a commercial swordfishing vessel, made the risky decision to sail beyond their usual fishing grounds in order to catch more fish at the Flemish Cap. The boat had recently suffered from bringing in low numbers of fish, and they simply needed to catch more in order to financially stay afloat. The movie shows the boat heading back out to sea with a huge weather event developing behind them creating what a meteorologist in the movie would later famously describe as “the perfect storm.” After initial success of catching an abundance of fish, two approaching weather fronts collided with a hurricane and created dangerous conditions for the fishermen. The tall waves and blowing winds eventually proved to be too much for the boat and its crew despite a valiant effort to survive. As I think about the upcoming year in agriculture, I cannot help but think about the conditions that are setting up to create a perfect storm economically for farmers across the United States.
During National Agriculture Week, I always strive to educate you about the great things that we are doing in the agriculture industry and the importance of farming to our nation. This year will be no different, but I want to especially focus on the huge financial risk that farmers are taking by growing crops in 2022. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, “the cost of growing crops could outpace revenue for many farmers in 2022 despite rising commodity prices and increased demand.” 2021 was a great year for farmers locally and nationally, but news of product shortages and higher input prices for 2022 arrived before the harvest was completed last fall. Farmers have spent much of their time over the winter preparing for one of the most expensive years they have ever been faced with.
The war in Ukraine has had a major impact on the worldwide fertilizer supply as Russia recently decided to ban the export of fertilizer while neighboring Belarus has also been hit with economic sanctions making it nearly impossible for them to export fertilizer as well. It is also important to note that China had previously halted the export of fertilizer out of its country until at least June of 2022. Russia, Belarus and China are collectively responsible for exporting over 27% of the world’s nitrogen, 38% of the world’s phosphate and 35% of the world’s potash — which are the three main nutrients in most fertilizers. In the United States, farmers are currently experiencing fertilizer increases of 100-300% compared to a year ago, making it their primary concern in 2022.
Due to supply and key ingredient shortages, many popular farm chemicals like Roundup have nearly doubled in price compared to a year ago. Many agricultural suppliers are asking farmers to buy the products they will need up to two months in advance to ensure they receive what they need. The manufacturing pace of farm equipment and precision farm products have not recovered from supply chain disruptions as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic. This has resulted in shortages of new products and record prices for farm machinery.
Last but not least, the rising cost of diesel fuel and inflation is further adding to the cost of everything. Farmers are consumers too, and they also feel the pinch at the pump and in the checkout line during this period of inflation. Despite the current economic situation, the wild card that will have the largest impact on a farmer’s success will be the weather. Farmers will especially be praying for good growing conditions for their crops in order to make it through this difficult year.
I have always been an optimist regarding the future of agriculture and that will never change. American farmers are the best and most productive in the world, and I am confident we will find a way to navigate the choppy waters ahead. As spring arrives and planting season begins, farmers will once again head out to the fields to plant the seeds that will grow and develop into crops that will feed the world. Like the Andrea Gail in the movie, farmers will be forced to take a huge risk this year in the pursuit of success, and I am optimistic that we will indeed be successful. The biggest weakness of the Andrea Gail was the crew’s lack of information and not being fully aware of the deteriorating conditions around them. The key to success in 2022 will be identifying what is coming, and being ready when it comes. Though the future may seem uncertain at times, I always find comfort in knowing that the prettiest day is always the one following a storm.
I hope you will join me in celebrating National Agriculture Week!
WESTLEY B. DRAKE is a local farmer in the Newsoms area and is a passionate advocate for agriculture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.