Agriculture, Fuel Costs, and the Price Hikes to Come

I am an aerial applicator from Nebraska. What the heck is that, you might ask? I apply pesticides and fertilizer to crops throughout the summer months with an airplane to help farmers maximize their yields. This allows them to feed not only the United States, but also half the world. Aircraft are just another tool for farmers to keep our food supply affordable, plentiful, and safe. Aerial application is very common throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Anywhere there is commercial agriculture, you will more than likely see an airplane or helicopter flying back and forth doing their thing with precision and skill. 

There are approximately 2,500 ag pilots in the United States who cover millions of acres each year from California to Florida and everywhere else in between. Ag aircraft are useful for everything from spreading dry fertilizer and seeding crops such as rice to applying liquid pesticides and fertilizers. They are even called upon to fight fires by dropping borate or water to extinguish wildfires and save property and lives.      

The ag aircraft I operate run on Jet-A fuel, which is the same fuel used in airliners and is a refined form of diesel fuel. Americans concerned about rising food prices should know that my cost for Jet-A has gone up 200 percent over past year. The last 8,600-gallon tanker load I purchased was $4.65 a gallon, which cost me $40,000. Naturally, the truck driver wanted a check before he left. 

During the height of spray season, my company will operate three aircraft, each burning around 60 gallons per hour. That is one gallon of fuel burned per minute for each aircraft for a total of between 160-180 gallons an hour. This year, it will cost me around $900 an hour and could easily be $10,000 for the day in fuel costs alone. This cost will be passed along to the farmer, or to a corporate farm operation, both of which will try to pass this onto the end consumer—which is you. That means your food costs will go up dramatically. 

Probably not what you wanted to hear but this is the reality we are all living in now.

Fuel is not the only thing that has increased dramatically in cost in recent months. So have the costs of pesticides and the fertilizers we apply for the farmers. Take, for example, glyphosate which almost every non-organic commercial farmer in this country uses. This is a broad-spectrum herbicide used to desiccate invasive weeds and grasses that would compete for vital moisture and nutrients needed to grow healthy, high-yielding crops. Last year this herbicide cost the farmer around $20 a gallon. This year it cost upward of $70 a gallon and because of supply chain disruptions, it is in very limited supply. 

Every input cost for the farmer has increased substantially this year. This inevitably leads to the question, “Why don’t farmers just grow organic crops and do away with all the pesticide and fertilizer costs?” The simple answer is this: “How much of your income do you want to spend on groceries, and which poor countries will we decide to let starve??” 

Unless people grow it themselves, organic food is a luxury that wealthy people in countries such as the United States can afford simply because some have enough disposable income to spend on such items. The poorest countries, which make up the bulk of the population of the world, just want something to eat. The only way we can produce enough food to feed a big part of the world is by using traditional farming practices that involve pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs—and, of course, aerial application.  

So why the war on fossil fuels? Why did Joe Biden cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline as soon as he took office? Given all that we’ve seen, I have to assume the current administration wants high fuel prices. I have seen nothing to give me hope fuel prices are going down anytime soon. 

Is the point to make everyone get excited to go out and buy a new electric car? If so, I have news for them. I can’t go out and purchase a new electric ag plane. They don’t exist. Until Elon Musk can figure out how to make batteries lighter and hold enough charge to produce 750 horsepower all day long, my ag plane will be burning fossil fuels. 

The drive to eliminate fossil fuels and “decarbonize” the economy is unsustainable and will have consequences most Americans have not even considered. If we don’t change course, it has the potential to absolutely destroy our economy and country. Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of any modern economy and will be for the foreseeable future. To think we can just eliminate them by willing it so is the stuff of fantasyland. There is nothing green for the farming community in the era of the Green New Deal: only red ink and high costs, which means the cost of food will continue to increase.

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About Jared Storm

Jared Storm is the owner operator of Storm Flying Service based in David City, Nebraska as well as being the president of Storm Aeronautics. Originally from western Kansas, Jared grew up in the agricultural aviation industry, obtaining his commercial aviation license by the age of 22. After graduating from Kansas State University with a B.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Physical Education from Fort Hays State University, Jared went on to teach middle school briefly before focusing on a career in agricultural aviation. In 2011 Jared purchased an FAA approved repair station that manufacturers agricultural aircraft parts and components and is currently focusing on putting a version of the Grumman AgCat back into production.

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