TYLER—Victor Zillmer keeps the prices on his fresh berries, vegetables and jams as low as he can—but lately, he’s having to raise those prices more and more. It’s all due to two closely related costs: diesel fuel and fertilizer.
On this warm June morning, he’s driven into Tyler from nearby Lindale with a truck full of produce and jars of jams and jellies. He has a table at the local farmers market, which provides much of his family’s income. Filling his tank with diesel on the drive down was only part of his problem.
“The thing is, with petroleum, it’s used to make nitrogen fertilizer,” he says. “And that’s basically tripled in price.”
But can’t he just “go organic,” as some urban elites suggest. He uses organic practices on his farm, but eliminating commercial fertilizer would substantially decrease his yield—or drive up other costs.
“People say, ‘just go organic,’ but you can’t do that because most organic fertilizers are less than 1% nitrogen,” he explains. “But commercial fertilizers are anywhere from 13% to 50% nitrogen. So to put out as much nitrogen-using organics, you’re making 40 to 50 more trips in your diesel tractor.”
Like all merchants at the Tyler Farmers Market, Zillmer is proud to participate in both WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) voucher programs. He feels as if he’s making a real contribution in providing healthy, fresh produce to struggling families.
But like other farmers, his rising costs and diminishing returns threaten the viability of Zillmer’s farm.
It’s a nationwide phenomenon. As the New York Post reports, “Record diesel prices could lead to food shortages in U.S.”
“Average diesel prices in the US Monday reached $5.70 per gallon, representing a $2.40 increase compared to the same period last year,” the Post explained. “Farmers disproportionately rely on diesel to fuel their tractors and other heavy machinery used to plant and harvest crops, burning up to thousands of gallons a month, depending on the size of their operation.”
What can be done? The Biden administration can cease its war on American energy production.
“What we’re seeing here is the practical consequence of a president who said during his campaign he was going to make war on domestic energy,” says TPPF’s Chuck DeVore. “It’s made it more difficult to extract oil and gas, coal, and other forms of energy. And now as a result, and because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, somewhat limited world supplies have now become critical.”
For small farmers like Victor Zillmer, that war in Ukraine is far off and remote; the war on U.S. energy is closer to home—and playing out in his own family’s finances.