By Clint Thompson
The math is not adding up for South Georgia vegetable farmer Sam Watson. Input costs are increasing, especially with rare items like boxes and pallets. Yet, market prices remain low.
“We have enough struggles dealing with cheap markets and labor problems, we shouldn’t have to worry about a box and a pallet,” said Watson, managing partner of Chill C Farms in Colquitt County, Georgia. “We’re in some pretty cheap markets right now, and the boxes are up 20%. The pallets are doubled, and we’re supposed to stay in business doing that? And we can’t go up on anything? Meanwhile everybody else is going up on us. How do we stay in business?”
The struggle is amplified since the spike in labor shortage. Less workers available to cut wood has a ripple effect that has contributed to the current pallet shortage. Even if producers like Watson can find pallets, they’re likely to pay twice as much for them. With North Florida and South Georgia nearing the start of watermelon season, pallet prices will only increase.
But first and foremost, people need to go back to work.
“If you talk to the logging industry and the forestry industry, they can’t get people to log; they can’t get truck drivers. The mills can’t get workers to run the mill even if the wood’s there. Nobody can get workers,” Watson said. “It’s affecting the forestry industry just like it’s affecting us. The only difference is the people we buy the products from are just able to say, ‘Well, we’re going to charge you more because they’re charging us more.’ Yet, we’re the ones that can’t charge more. The buck stops here.”
No input cost seems immune from a price increase these days. Watson said that along with boxes and pallets, freight costs are doubled. Fertilizer is up, so is fuel. The well-documented labor costs have increased.
“We’re selling this stuff basically for the same price we sold it for the last 10 years,” Watson said.
Again, how are farmers supposed to stay in business?