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Rising price of fertilizer is forcing NC farmers out of the business

Farmers tell WRAL News the cost of fertilizer has tripled over the past two years and is now threatening to drive smaller farms out of the business entirely.

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Keenan Willard
, WRAL eastern North Carolina reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina farmers say the cost of fertilizer has tripled over the past two years and is threatening to drive smaller farms out of the business entirely.

The spike in cost has left family farms looking for ways to stay afloat while still producing enough food.

As one of the most essential tools in agriculture, fertilizer makes up 15% of all farming costs in the U.S., according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

But since September 2020, the cost of fertilizer nationwide has spiked up to 300% as demand for its primary ingredients like ammonia and liquid nitrogen has soared.

"It’s a constant struggle," said Nathan Barlowe, who works on his family farm. "I mean I’m not trying to sound like a poor man, but it’s a constant struggle right now in the farming world."

Hundreds of farmers descended on the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh for last week’s Southern Farm Show, where one of the speakers was dedicated solely to helping farmers find ways to cope with higher fertilizer prices.

Barlowe said to cut costs his farm, he tried switching to alternative fertilizers, but so did everyone else.

"Now everybody’s going to chicken litter, and we can’t even find the chicken litter now to do for our farm," Barlowe said. "So the supply and demand issue is kind of in a mixed-up world right now."

Rep. Julia Letlow, a Republican in Louisiana, requested that the Agricultural and Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University research rising fertilizer prices and look more into what could be done about it. The report found that "the largest whole-farm impact would fall on feed grain farms at an average of $128,000 per farm."
Jim Wiesemeyer, editor for the news outlet ProFarmer, said that the U.S. government could take action to prioritize fertilizer production and distribution on the rail roads.

If prices don’t drop soon, some in the agriculture world said they’re afraid smaller farms won’t be able to survive.

The Texas A&M report predicted that prices will start to drop again in 2023, but it won't be by much.

"It’s just hard on all of them," said Clint Drye, with Quality Equipment’s Clint. "Longtime farmers, the family farmers, they can’t compete with the huge farms that get a lot of the government subsidies, things like that."

As a third generation farmer, Barlowe said he has a legacy to uphold and he’ll do anything to keep his crops growing.

"We have to make money at the end of the day," Barlowe said. "And we’re just out here trying to feed the world."

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