Economy affects agriculture, too

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From row crops to hunting stands, everyone has felt the economic crunch suffered by agriculture and related industries.

“The slowdown in housing in the United States has had a pretty adverse effect on the lumber business, which is one of the main users of our products,” said Bucky Henson, president of Buchanan Forest Resources. “The demand for lumber has been down, really, for about the last three or four years.”

The Associated Press has reported almost one quarter of American homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Lenders repossessed a quarter million homes from July through September of this year.

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While demand for some products have diminished, other farmers have put off purchasing technology or equipment that make their jobs easier and their yields higher.

For example, many farmers cannot afford satellite technology. The systems may cost $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the degree of accuracy. The higher costs are for satellite systems with less than an inch variation between passes across a field.

Bojie Beers uses satellite technology to guide tractors. He believes the investment is worth more efficient planting and reduction of crop loss during harvesting.

“Everybody’s looked into it. Some people have not purchased it, some people have. But many of the people have at least got an interest in it,” Beers said. “With a lot of this stuff, especially with the peanuts, you’ve got to invert more; you’ve got to stay on a straight line.”

And in a world economy, when China reduces nitrate exports, fertilizer prices go up.

Tim Wood, general manager of the Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, said fertilizer prices are at an all-time high, and usage by the ton has gone down significantly. Dependence on Chinese exports has left the country without the ability to produce nitrate-based fertilizers, and farmers constantly search for cheaper alternatives.

Wood has not heard of many farmers quitting altogether, but he has noticed there is also not much new blood entering the industry.

“Young people don’t want to be committed to the amount of work you’ve got to do to stay in agriculture,” Wood said. “The cost of getting started is prohibitive. If you don’t inherit, you don’t hardly get.”

Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, will speak on “Outdoor recreation and Tourism in the Black Belt: Thinking Outside the Box” today at 7 a.m. during a breakfast at the co-op. Gothard’s speech will focus on a marketing strategy to maximize the benefits of hunting, fishing and related industries.