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Runaway inflation puts American food security at risk

(Jason Schatzke and Lance Neuhaus) – Recent headlines might give the impression that inflation is under control, but inflation and other threats to agriculture are putting our farms and our food security at risk. Farmers need strong federal farm policies. The stakes have never been higher.

Summer is beautiful on the farm. Our crops are planted, and we normally get to take this season to enjoy the hard work that comes with growing the food that feeds America. This summer, though, we can’t sleep at night.

We both grow sugar crops — sugarbeets in North Dakota and sugarcane in Texas — among other commodities. We are certainly no stranger to the challenges that come with trying to navigate Mother Nature or cyclical crop markets. But this year, the disasters keep piling on.

It started with planting. In North Dakota, we were a month late in getting seed into the ground, due to an unseasonably cold and wet spring. The planted crop is looking promising, but the loss of crop protection tools has made growing sugarbeets more challenging and increased the cost of controlling pests, as we have to use less effective products more often. We also had to hire additional labor to even come close to planting our expected number of acres, which meant additional costs.

Texas, on the other hand, is dealing with such bad drought conditions that some of our neighboring farmers gave up entirely on trying to plant a crop this year. On our farm, we had to purchase additional water to irrigate our crops, adding as much as $700,000 to our farm expenses this year.

Now, our bills for tractor and truck fuel, along with the fertilizer we need for our crops, are skyrocketing. Some of our costs have increased upwards of 100 percent. In North Dakota, our fuel costs are projected to be up $280,000 over 2021 and fertilizer costs are up more than $500,000 over 2021.

In Texas, our fertilizer costs have risen from $180 per ton in 2021 to more than $700 per ton this year. We are making sacrifices everywhere just to pay the bills.

We are both members of grower-owned sugar cooperatives so when we harvest our crops this fall, that sugarcane or sugarbeet will head to our respective cooperatives, where the sugar will be extracted. Higher transportation and production costs at our cooperatives will reduce the prices we receive for our crop. We’re all working hard this year to just break even.

Like all of America’s farmers, we’re willing to do what it takes to get the job done and feed people across our nation. But as the number of farmers in America continues to dwindle, we need to take our food security seriously, especially as other nations are confronted by growing food scarcity and hunger.

The past few years have dealt agriculture some heavy blows, but thanks to the stability provided by federal farm policies and a sugar policy that costs taxpayers nothing, we have been able to navigate these challenges — so far. Both of our farms have been in our families for several generations, and we want to keep the legacy of farming alive for our children.

If we value a strong food supply, we need America and Congress to continue supporting our farmers, now and in the future.

Jason Schatzke farms sugarbeets, corn, soybeans, black beans, sunflower and wheat in North Dakota. Lance Neuhaus farms sugarcane, citrus, cotton, corn, onions and vegetables and raises cattle along the Rio Grande River in South Texas. This column was originally published in The Hill.