Whether we know it or not, all of us pay attention to the cost agricultural producers are paying for inputs necessary to produce food, fiber, and fuel. Unless you never purchase food in a grocery section or pay for a meal in a restaurant, it’s almost impossible not to notice one of two things. Either the price of foodstuffs has increased noticeably over the last several years or while the price has remained the same the portion size has decreased markedly. Next time you are at the store, look at the weight of a package of bacon or a bag of potato chips. Your one pound package of bacon is now 25 percent lighter and a bag of chips in some cases is only 10 ounces. There are several reasons for these price increases but here let’s focus on the cost of the inputs producers pay.
The costs of inputs, especially fertilizers and energy, have increased markedly over the last several years. This is partly the result of worldwide demand for inputs and outputs but in the case of energy international politics and turmoil. Farm inputs are particularly sensitive to increases in the cost of energy. Almost every aspect of agriculture requires fuel in the process of producing foodstuffs and the transportation of inputs and commodities plays a significant role in the overall cost of those inputs and products. Just as significant is the energy needed for the production of farm chemicals, particularly fertilizers. Tremendous amounts of energy are necessary for the production of all forms of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. There is also an input whose cost has risen very significantly that many may not consider – land.
In many parts of the country, including Kansas, the price of agricultural land has doubled over the last twenty years. In economic terms, land, especially irrigated land, is a scarce resource. Google farmland prices and a number of “record” sale price articles pop up. So how does this relate to the title if the article? Ask people living in western Kansas how the sky looked this past week with wind gust over 60 miles per hour. While not the Dust Bowl, there was a fair amount of “dirt” moving in the Great Plains during this period of drought. Thanks to advances in cropping practices and their adoption by a significant portion of the farming community. Other than visibility and some crop loss, what’s the big deal?
The A horizon of the soil, topsoil, is the foundation of our agricultural system. Losing an inch of topsoil is the loss of centuries of soil development. As the new Barton ANR extension agent said in a recent article, soil IS important. So over the next few weeks let’s explore the soil and what it means to us.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.