Input costs weigh heavily on growers

10/12/2011 09:59:00 AM
Andy Nelson

High fuel and other input costs continue to take their toll on North Carolina sweet potato growers.

Input costs are up about 10% across the board this season for Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms Inc., said partner Jimmy Burch.

“Everything’s up a little bit — cardboard, fertilizer, chemicals,” he said.

While inputs are up, prices are likely to be a little down compared to 2010-11, Burch said.

But growers could get some relief next year.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has said next year could be flat,” he said.

Higher fuel and other input costs are making life more difficult for North Carolina growers, said David Godwin, owner of Dunn, N.C.-based Godwin Produce Co.

“We’re monitoring our inputs a lot closer and tightening our belts as much as we can,” Godwin said.

“They’ve gone up dramatically — and not just fuel.”

Anything that’s petroleum-based, for instance — fertilizers and plastics, to name two, Godwin said — is a lot more expensive now than in recent years.

Freight rates seem to go up regardless of fluctuation in fuel prices, Godwin said.

“They’ve gone up 30% to 40% in the last three years.”

Then there’s labor.

“We use all H-2A, and that wage continues to rise,” he said.

Passing higher input costs along to customers is easier said than done, Godwin said.

“It seems like I’m absorbing every bit of it.”

George Wooten, owner and chief executive officer of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., agreed with Godwin that input costs are difficult to pass along.

Inputs are up across the board, with labor costs in particular taking a sharp upward turn, Wooten said. To compensate, Wayne E. Bailey does everything it can to squeeze more production out of each working hour, so that the production costs-per-pound go down, he said.

Also, Wayne E. Bailey tries to waste as little as possible. For instance, Wooten said, the company packs many of the fingerlings produced by plants, whereas in the past, the company may have just let them stay on the ground. 



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