EASTERN ONTARIO — Rising input costs are the unfortunate flipside of high crop prices otherwise fuelling optimism in Eastern Ontario farm country.
But that’s not all. The price of almost everything is going up, from food in the grocery store to fuel and lumber. Plastics have surged in price, more than doubling the cost of tile drainage tubing and bale wrap.
We can thank the pandemic lockdowns. There are logjams around the world in the supply chain. Contractors have had to sit in a parking lot to wait for the curbside purchase of one screw. COVID outbreaks in meat plants and among labourers working close together, have also slowed down production and, in some cases, have resulted in crops left to rot in the field.
While corn and soybeans are at record high prices, North Stormont Township cash-cropper Brent MacIntyre, said that “for the risk that’s involved” and the increasing costs of inputs crop prices had better be good if a farmer expects to make money.
MacIntyre said he last bought a new tractor about 15 years ago, during the last comparable surge in both corn and soybean prices. But the St. Luke’s Farm owner says a new tractor would be relatively less affordable today, even with higher prices for his crops.
“New things now are getting beyond my reach,” he said. He doesn’t expect to ever replace his combine now. “Parts are very expensive now, just to buy oil and lubricants.”
“A combine with heads, a brand new one, you’re talking $800,000-plus,” said Chesterville-area grower John Brugmans, adding that bigger units exceed $1-million.
As for rising fuel prices it’s harder to offset through advance purchase as the farmer must take delivery up front, and many operators would not have a full season’s storage capacity, Brugmans said, However, his neighbour, Marty Derks, told Farmers Forum last month that he did just that. He ordered a full season’s worth of fuel last fall.
While farmers have been mostly shielded from rising fertilizer prices this season by purchasing in advance last autumn, “the shock will come in 2022,” suggests Richard Lavigne, seed sales representative at Summit Seeds, south of Kemptville. “A lot of the inputs were secured last fall. But I think next year we’re going to feel the pinch.”
As for those farmers contemplating a barn expansion and other construction projects, the pandemic means much higher costs for building material — not to mention tight supply and outright shortages in some cases.
North Gower’s Perkin’s Lumber sales rep. Bruce Seabrook, listed a slew of items that have either become scarce or much more expensive, often both.
Rebar alone has increased 80 to 90 percent in value since last fall, said Seabrook. Manufacturers are issuing new price lists every three to four weeks on steel cladding, and the stuff can be hard to get. “It could be a colour, it could be gauge. If it’s out of the ordinary, it’s going to be a long time to get it.”
He estimated that lumber products are up about 300 percent since the start of the pandemic — 50 percent alone since December.
A sheet of standard 7/16” aspenite chipboard that would have cost just over $13 before the pandemic lists at $62.75 today, he said.
At the moment, it would be hard to source a full truckload of 2x4s or 2x6s for a project, “and the quality has gone down.” Pressure-treated lumber is in short supply and there’s a drywall shortage. Plumbing supplies — from glue to ABS to copper pipe — have become precious these days as well.
Reports suggest the hot housing market and consumer demand for renovations as people stay at home, combined with factories and mills that have slowed their output, while dealing with the pandemic, have all combined to drive up prices.
“Everything is so hard to get a hold of,” said Seabrook, noting it takes longer for orders to come as well.
“It’s crazy, wood and tin, awful prices,” said Doug Robinson, a Finch-area dairy farmer, who is thankful not to have any construction projects this year.