As if this year wasn’t tough enough for the farming community, Oklahoma farmers can now add “global diesel shortages” to their 2022 toughness bingo card.
Just weeks after Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order to continue efforts to alleviate drought for farmers, reports of what some are calling a devastating diesel shortage are rolling in to see farmers into the already harsh winter season.
Tim Heinrich, who serves on the board of directors for the Garfield County Conservation District and runs his own 3,000-acre farm operation in North Central Oklahoma, says a modern combine like the one he uses on his farm for harvesting typically requires about 150 gallons diesel per day to get the job done, a job that will end up costing him more in fuel than he gets back in sales.
“I’m harvesting soybeans that aren’t even worth harvesting right now,” he said, with a rise in diesel costs making every component of every function on his farm more expensive.
“Most of us have diesel pickups that we use to feed the cows all winter, all the trucks that haul the crop to and from the farm, all our sprayers, our combines and our tractors. All of this depends on rising diesel prices,” he said.
The US Energy Information Agency reports in its November Short Term Energy Outlook that diesel prices are almost 50% higher than this time last year and our reserves are at their lowest level since 1951. But how did we get here?
“Demand is returning to where it was in 2019, and supply is producing literally a million barrels a day less than 2019,” said US Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Cheyenne), former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Lucas said one of the challenges is that as of 2019, 5% of the refining capacity that we had three years ago to turn oil into diesel no longer exists.
“It was either converted to biofuels, it was antiquated older equipment, or it was found to be cost effective when demand fell. So we have 5% less refining capacity, but the ongoing refineries are working harder than they have in the last 20 years. As demand increases, supply will be limited by how much we can grow,” he said.
“You can only get so much diesel from a barrel of oil. That’s just in nature.”
Another challenge, Russia.
“Supply and demand patterns in the world affect prices in Oklahoma. Added to this is the invasion of dictator Putin into his neighbors and Ukraine, and the reaction of Europe and the western world to stop buying Russian products. That affected things too,” Lucas said.
Heinrich, who is also a member of the Co-Cop board of Garber, a locally owned farmer’s cooperative that provides fertilizer, feed, fuel and chemicals to farmers in the area, said the diesel shortage is affecting other farm products as well.
“We’ve had to cut back on some of our agricultural chemicals and fertilizers because we just couldn’t get them. There are so many bottlenecks right now because a lot of these things are made in plants that burn diesel.”
Heinrich said the community is trying to adapt and learn to do more with less, but is finding it difficult to keep up with this and with rising inflation.
“All of our input costs have doubled or tripled. We’re the only part of the grocery chain that can’t control our selling price,” Heinrich said.
Whether it’s a few thousand acres or a few dozen acres, farmers across the state are feeling the pressure of these price hikes.
“Farmers are cutting back on everything from farm life to family life,” said Megan Whitehead, who runs a small 30-acre farm with her family in Kingfisher, Oklahoma.
“All prices have gone up except what we earn.”
Megan recently had to sell her herd of cattle after she couldn’t afford her hay feed this September. Still recovering from recent knee surgery, she said she has to put in extra hours at the hospital where she works to avoid her family having to sell parts of their land to get through the winter.
“I’m lucky enough to be able to pick up overtime at the hospital every other week, but so many other farming families don’t have that opportunity,” Megan said.
Heinrich said most Oklahoma farmers worked on borrowed money.
“Almost every farmer out here has a big old loan. People in town might drive by and they see our gear and our barns and they’re like, oh, he made it. But we’re all just a hiccup away from losing it. Each of us is just a hiccup away from losing it,” Heinrich said.
Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News, visit gaylordnews.net.