Farmers feel pinch of feed costs

John Brannen
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Rose MacKenzie takes a moment to feed the sheep at her farm in Lorne on Tuesday. She’s one of many farmers in the area dealing with higher feed prices for their livestock. John Brannen – The News

LORNE – Rose MacKenzie has been a farmer since the early 1970s and has seen many changes in farming over the last three decades.

But the cost to keep her 91 cattle and 45 sheep well fed has never been as dire as the past few years. Feed prices have continued to climb.

“It’s a difficult time to be a farmer,” she said. “Most of the time, we find ourselves paying more than we bring in.”

Rose and her husband Donnie have been feeling the financial pains of higher feed costs. They’ve had to downsize in 2007 and 2009, selling some of their cattle to farmers in Quebec.

She says they may be downsizing again in the near future.

Though other costs have been rising as well, such as fuel and electricity, corn prices are based on different challenges. A summer drought in the United States and an increased diversion of corn toward ethanol production could keep the price higher for a longer period of time.

This is bad news for farmers as corn makes up a large portion of feed for sheep and other livestock.

Gerry Lutes, a brokerage sales representative for Co-op Atlantic Agriculture Division in Moncton said the vast majority of the farming industry is affected by the commodity prices of grain, beans and corn.

Theses commodity prices are in turn determined on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“Supply and demand are dictated there so the prices are dictated there as well,” said Lutes.

Droughts in the U.S. in 2012 and an increased use of corn for ethanol have increased the price per bushel, but there’s no guarantee the price will continue to rise or fall.

“If I could predict the price of corn,” said Lutes, “I’d probably be on a beach somewhere vacationing by now. Anything can happen anytime and affect prices.”

To run a farm, having enough food for your animals is a no brainer but budgeting for feed when prices are rising is nearly impossible.

“You can’t simply look at the prices and decide to buy less food for the livestock,” said Mackenzie. “Your hands are tied.”

The costs for MacKenzie include $500 a month for sheep feed and upwards of $16,000 for hay for the winter.

“When you go to the supermarket you can see that prices for meat, eggs and dairy have gone up,” said Mackenzie. “But we farmers still aren’t making enough money selling these products on the market.”

The United Nations offered a grim assessment of the world corn prices, saying they would remain high due to drought while U.S. financial institutions predicted a 17 per cent increase per bushel.

For MacKenzie, she is still committed to farming, though the number of farms in the area is shrinking.

“Nothing is more important than the food on our plates,” she said. “Things may be grim but at the end of the day, local farmers provide a valuable service. We can’t just rely on our food from other countries.”

Organizations: Co-op Atlantic Agriculture Division, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, United Nations

Geographic location: United States, Moncton

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  • wingman
    January 30, 2013 - 11:16

    Then let them take it up with the feed suppliers but don't expect the taxpayer to make up for the difference in price.