The war in Ukraine has pushed the prices of essential items upward in many areas across the US, and this is especially apparent when grocery shopping or pumping gas.
The bad news is, the end is probably not in sight, as it is estimated Russia and Ukraine combine to provide more than 30% of the world’s wheat and 15% of the corn.
As a higher demand is placed on American farmers, it’s possible that grocery prices only continue to rise. The prices for fertilizer, animal feed and diesel have all gone up, and this likely will be pushed on to consumers.
Floyd McElwain has been helping Midwest farmers prepare their harvests for more than 40 years. He is the founder of McElwain Sprayers, an aerial service that drops fungicide and even seeds on farmland. The “crop dusters” airplane wheels are sometimes only a few feet above the ground, which requires skilled pilots.
This year, McElwain has seen the price of jet fuel increase faster than it ever has before.
“Literally doubled the price of what we were paying last year,” McElwain said. “I’ve said it before – we’re sort of a 911 business, so when it’s too wet, too tall or too rough is when (farmers) use the airplanes.”
The agricultural aerial applicators season, or crop dusters, began this month. Similarly, the navigation season along the Missouri River has also kicked off. It runs from approximately April 1 through December 1.
Barge traffic is typically less affected by high fuel costs, and the hope is the industry can actually help alleviate some high stress costs placed on farmers.
Transport 360 CEO Bill Becker is the St. Louis. Joseph Port Authority operator. Year after year Becker has either expanded the port’s capacity or increased its efficiency.
For instance, it takes a five-man crew around 10 hours to unload a barge and around four hours to load it. Transport 360’s core business is transloading, from either rail to barge or vice versa, and also storing product so it is available for customers at a moment’s notice.
“The most efficient usage of moving a ton of product to the export terminals is the barge systems,” Becker said. “Barges are about seven to eight times more efficient than truck, in terms of fuel usage, and about two to two and a half times more efficient than rail.”
The business is only limited by the amount of water flowing down the Missouri River. If the spring and summer rains produce a lower amount of groundwater, it could cut the navigation season back by a month.
Jason Laipple is the general manager at Transport 360. He spoke about the fuel costs associated with barge traffic.
“Say they’re bringing a six pack of barges from St. Louis up to here, you’re probably going to use about 3,500 gallons of diesel, roughly, but you’re looking at six barges. Each has 1,500 tons on them, so that’s quite a bit,” Laipple said. “Then going downstream, from here back to St. Louis, you’re only using about 1,700 gallons of diesel.”