Gas Woes

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008

How’s $4 gas affecting you? It’s ‘killing us’

By Billy Davis
From hay farms to busy moms, Panola Countians say the price of gasoline is putting a pinch on their pocketbook.

“The diesel is killing us,” said Sue Roberts, who operates S&S Hay Farm in the Eureka community with husband Scott.

Roberts speculated that the price of petroleum-based fertilizer and off-road diesel, used to power farm tractors, has “more than doubled” since the summer of 2007.

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Roberts’ speculation is pretty close – except she may have low-balled the figure.  

Figures provided by ag company UAP (United Agri Products), which supplies Panola County farmers, shows increases for all fertilizers. Potash that cost $225 a ton last summer has jumped to $750 a ton – more than triple its cost last year, and urea that cost $325 has jumped to $630.

 “It’s pretty drastic what we’ve gone through already, and it has not yet begun to peak,” said Bart Bevill, area manager for UAP.

According to Bevill, farmers might recoup part of the fertilizer cost when commodity prices rise to reflect the new costs. But he stressed that fuel and fertilizer mean the farmer’s “up-front risk” is greater than before, forcing the farmer to spend more before the first drop of rain falls.

“A farmer who went to the bank to borrow $100,000 now needs $200,000 for the same crop,” said Bevill. “Yes, the commodities market will help him survive, but he’s risking more on the front end.”

Bevill confirmed an anecdotal story that found its way to Extension Service agent Judd Gentry. Relaying a second-hand story, Gentry said he was told farmers are being billed for a load of fertilizer when the truck arrives in the field – not when it leaves the plant.

Could that story be true? Yes, said Bevill.

“I’ve seen three price increases in one day,” he said.

The impact of fuel costs in rural areas has drawn the attention of the New York Times, which reported in its June 9 edition that motorists in the Southeast and Midwest are hurting the most.

A survey by a fuel analysis firm, which the newspaper built its story around, found 13 U.S. counties where people are spending 13 percent or more of their income on gasoline. Five of those 13 counties are located in Mississippi, all of them in the impoverished Mississippi Delta.

In Panola County, a gallon of regular unleaded is averaging $3.90 in Batesville, where drivers have long complained of inflated gas prices. The lowest price in Batesville was a penny less, $3.89. The lowest per-gallon price in Oxford, Clarksdale and Senatobia by mid-week was $3.77, $3.79 and $3.75 respectively.

Several readers of The Panolian have responded to an invitation by the newspaper to share their own stories of gasoline woes. Judy Davis shared that her husband James has surrendered his “gas guzzlin’, extended cab, four-wheel drive truck” due to the jump in gas prices.

The truck is now parked in the driveway, and James is driving his wife’s 30-miles-to-the-gallon car on his daily commute to President’s Island in Memphis. The new driving arrangement is saving $40 a week, she said.

Judy Davis said she is praying for the gas prices to fall “because I want to get my car back.”

Blackjack resident and Ole Miss student Jennifer Woodard said she and her family, husband Jason and their two children, had already trimmed their budget over the past year.

When Jennifer quit her job at a Batesville bank a year and a half ago to return to Ole Miss, the family scaled back to a house note and a car note.

“The gas hasn’t hurt us as bad because it’s been the basics, gas and groceries, and no extras,” she said.