The past Farmer’s Market season found me Sundays at the market in Rhinebeck. It’s a bustling market with customers from the local area but also entices weekend area visitors to peruse its wears. I sell lamb and goat meat as well as a variety of other farm produced fiber products including yarn and socks.
The animals raised for meat are pasture raised during the months pasture is able to nutritionally support animal health and growth. In leaner months they consume farm harvested hay and a small amount of locally produced grain.The grain mix, to date, has been whole grains – corn, wheat, oats – added to which is a dry molasses granule and some alfalfa pellets. The animals are not fed very much grain at all. Primarily the bred ewes and nannies receive the majority of the whatever grain is fed.
Recent months have seen the cost of grain rise at a brisk pace. 50 pounds of grain that cost $7.50 in the spring now costs $10.50 a bag. That’s close to a 42% increase in feed costs. In conversations with other sheep growers locally I find the same to be true.
What’s causing the increase in feed prices and what is the impact of those higher costs on our local agricultural community ? Increased price might be attributed to a myriad of causes but two that quickly come to mind are fuel costs and fuel costs — the cost to fuel the equipment that is used in the planting and harvesting of grains. Cost of fuel to transport. But also the high cost of fuel at the gas pump drives the price of grain based fuel additives to a level where it competes with the food market for the same grains consumed as food by humans and livestock. In the Northeast and other colder regions of our nation these same feed and food grains are also used as home heating fuels further adding to the competitive market and driving costs higher. Hay prices are on the rise as well and the cost of straw for bedding is upwards of $7.00 per small square bale.
The impact on our local agricultural community is a much more delicate measurement. I suspect that the consequence will ultimately be the decrease in livestock numbers growers are able to sustain on their farms. Once numbers decrease growers are reluctant to add more livestock back into production. Unless… they are able to market their farm product at a price that reflects the increasing costs of growing that product. At our recently held Bred Ewe Sale during the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, sale numbers of sheep were markedly down with almost 20% of the bred sheep having no bid placed on them at all. In reviewing these alarming statistics breeders participating in the sale attribute the outcome to the high costs of feed needed to support these animals in the Northeast. Farmers can not afford to feed them ! Fewer animals being carried over the winter will mean fewer animals in the spring, which will mean a decrease in the availability of locally sourced food. Instead of being able to expand the locally sourced market to include lesser served populations, the market will contract with only a small minority being able to obtain these products.
Here’s the connection of all this to the farmer’s market. Farmer’s Markets are the ideal place for us producers to educate the public – our customer – regarding the challenges and rewards of producing a quality consumable. WE farmers know our product is a healthy, nutritious food. WE farmers know how it was raised, what it ate, how it was cared for, what went in to making it. Those customers, in return, are in a better position to make an educated choice about where to spend their food dollars. They NEED to support their local agricultural food supply network with those dollars so their local food network will be able to remain intact supporting them.
That’s full circle and that’s important.
Happy Harvest season to all.
Happy Thanksgiving. Safe journeys.