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July 01, 2012   Email to Friend 

Steel Rising - Farm Costs and Thefts on the Increase
Debra Davis

Dale County farmer Chris Thompson inspects a harrow as he breaks ground for this year’s cotton crop.
High steel prices are forcing farmers to dig a little deeper in their pockets when it comes to equipment and building costs.

Dale County farmer Chris Thompson recently replaced disk blades on the two 32-foot harrows he uses to farm 4,500 acres in Dale and Henry counties. It’s the cost of doing business, but it stung nonetheless, he said.

“This disc has 84 pans (disc blades) that are 24 inches wide and made of quarter-inch steel,” Thompson said. “So that’s about $3,000 to replace them, not counting our labor costs. We have two of these harrows that we use on the farm, and the blades are usually replaced about once a year, depending on soil conditions, weather and other factors. But, this is a necessary piece of equipment that has to be maintained.”

The cost of the pans rose about 10 percent since last year, according to Thompson.

Thompson and his wife, Tammy, grow cotton, peanuts and wheat, and they own a cotton gin. They also raise seed peanuts – peanuts that are sold to other farmers for replanting.

“Steel prices have affected everything as far as equipment, but it has hit in other areas, too,” Thompson said. “We looked at building more warehouse space for the seed business and cotton gin, but the cost of steel about made that prohibitive right now.”

Rising steel prices also have affected the costs of fencing, prompting some farmers to opt for wooden fence posts over the metal variety.

Prices have increased for almost every piece of farm machinery, Thompson said. In addition to higher steel costs, shipping and manufacturing costs have increased because of higher fuel costs, he said.

Scrap metal prices also have increased, and that fact has caused farmers to keep a more watchful eye on equipment and other materials.

“We have to watch our outlying farms like a hawk,” said Thompson, who serves on the Dale County Farmers Federation Board of Directors. “Our irrigation system has had wire stolen off of it; we’ve had old used equipment that we used to leave parked in the field disappear; heck, we’ve had gates stolen off the posts.” Metal theft is an increasing problem for farmers and others around the state, which triggered the Alabama Farmers Federation to seek tougher requirements for scrap metal dealers.

The Alabama Legislature passed those measures during the recent regular session.

Alfa Insurance is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for the theft of copper and other metal from poultry houses, farm irrigation systems and other property in Alabama covered by an Alfa Insurance policy.

Alabama Farmers Federation members already benefit from a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction for theft from their property.


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