“Right now is a scary time for farmers and ranchers.”
Bamberg County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Chris Wallace’s words serve as a good summary of what growers are facing as the 2022 spring planting season arrives.
“The increased costs of inputs since September 2020 have been incredible,” Wallace said.
- Liquid nitrogen price has nearly tripled (159% increase)
- Ammonia has increased over 210%
- Urea is up 155%
- Monoammonium phosphate (MAP) has increased 125%
- Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) has increased over 100%
- Potash has risen over 134%.
“A Texas A&M study showed that the average cotton farm production costs will be $30 per acre more than last year,” Wallace said. “There is very little margin to make a profit.”
Increased production costs coincide with COVID-induced labor shortages.
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“COVID has affected farmers when it comes to getting adequate migrant labor,” Wallace said. “Labor will be in shorter supply than recent years.”
“Supply-chain interruptions represent a huge problem for farmers and ranchers,” Wallace said. “Certain chemicals are in short supply and some parts (especially electronics), you cannot get. Local producers are still waiting on lime right now and lime should have been put out in January.”
Inflation is also a big concern.
“A local farmer said this is reminiscent of the 1970s,” Wallace said. “Diesel fuel is over $4 a gallon. Inflation is a big concern for everyone.”
The positive side is good crop prices. They are higher than last year.
“Corn is currently over $7 per bushel; cotton can be booked for over $1 per pound,” Wallace said. “Peanuts are a little underpriced compared to other crops. Peanuts can be booked for about $500 per ton. Soybeans are currently $16 per bushel, which is a very good price.”
“Crop prices are easing some concerns about inflation but input prices will not go down as quickly as crop prices,” Wallace said.
The cost of inputs, Wallace said, will be a driving factor of crop-planting decisions.
“Crops that require smaller amounts of chemical inputs will look more attractive to plant this year,” Wallace said.
There are also some regulations growers can expect to see in 2022.
Gramoxone (which contains nearly 44% paraquat dichloride) has severe restrictions concerning its use. It is forbidden to use Gramoxone around home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses and playgrounds. Only licensed applicators can use this herbicide, Wallace said.
New this year, Lorsban (Chlorpyrifos) is no longer available for use, Wallace said.
Lorsban is an insecticide that targets biting and sucking pests such as aphids and is primarily used in soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton and orchard crops.
“A safer alternative to Lorsban is Neonicotoids,” Wallace said. “However, Neonicotoids have been under scrutiny for the potential to harm bees and other pollinators. Some insect pests are also starting to show resistance to Neonicotoids.”
Bamberg County farmer Richard Rentz has been farming for 44 years.
He hasn’t seen the likes of a year like 2022 in at least the last 20.
“The supply chain is getting critical,” said Rentz, who is planning to plant peanuts, cotton and corn. “It is a scary year for me.”
For example, Rentz said limestone that he uses on crops has been hard to find.
“We are very late in getting it,” Rentz said. “The cost of everything — inflation has gotten bad. Some fertilizers have tripled in costs from last year.”
“It is going to be a challenging year even with good to excellent commodity prices,” he said.
He says the year is setting up where farmers will have to make good to great yields to break even.
“The cost of inputs is going to be frightening,” he said, adding that the conflict in Ukraine’s impact is also unknown.
Rentz said there were some challenging years in the early 1980s when input prices skyrocketed, but he does not recall “there being so many pieces to the puzzle.”
Wallace expects corn plantings to be up a little this year.
Last fall, the corn crop in Bamberg County was fairly decent. Dryland corn got plenty of water, coming in around 230 bushels per acre. Average yields for dryland were around 125 bushels per acre.
Corn prices last year were hovering around $5.38 a bushel, though some growers were able to get about $6 a bushel for corn. But input costs ate into any profitability.
About 6,457 acres were planted in the county in 2021, which was slightly down from 2020, when about 6,800 acres were planted.
Peanut acreage may decrease a little or remain steady from last year, Wallace said.
About 2,164 acres of runner peanuts were planted in Bamberg County in 2021, which was down from 2020. About 25% of the crop was irrigated.
Dryland peanut yields averaged about 4,000 pounds per acre, while irrigated yields averaged around 4,300 pounds. The lack of sunshine and heat during the growing season caused the crop to struggle somewhat.
Prices for peanuts last year averaged over $500 per ton.
About 531 acres of Virginia peanuts were planted in the county last year. About 25% of the Virginia peanut crop is irrigated.
Yields for dryland Virginia peanuts were around 4,000 pounds and irrigated about 4,300 pounds.
Soybean acreage is expected to increase this year.
About 4,598 acres of soybeans were planted in Bamberg County in 2021, which is 1,000 acres more than in 2020. Soybeans were booked at about $10 per bushel now.
Current projections show the soybean price dropping for 2022 to $12.63 a bushel, according to Clemson business officials.
Cotton acres may increase.
About 6,432 acres of cotton were planted in Bamberg County in 2021. This was 832 acres more than the year before.
About a third of the crop is irrigated.
Cotton harvested about 750-800 pounds per acre for non-irrigated cotton and a 1,000-pound-per-acre average yield for irrigated.
Cotton prices were around 75 cents per pound for staple cotton with producers averaging about 85-90 cents per pound. Cotton prices last year did get over $1 a pound, about the highest they had been in a decade.