Friday, October 12, 2012

Goodbye Drought...Hello Price Increases.

Mad Max, all 800 plus pounds of him...
contemplating pork futures

As we head towards 2013, now less than 3 months away. Keith and I are buried in plans for the next year. In the last month we had three individuals look at the farm but still no offers. One looker though, was serious enough to contact the folks we rent land from, to ask about future rent prices and  the possibility of additional land purchase, so maybe an offer is in the works?

In the meantime we are doing what all other farmers in this area are doing...assessing the effects of this summers disastrous drought. As farmers harvest field by field we hear of the results. Some fields were not too bad, others less than 30% of last years harvest and some worse than that. Year to date over the entire state of Illinois, we are still 6 inches below our average precipitation. In the western counties it is far worse, at 16-18 inches below the average.

We do not raise our own grain, instead it is purchased from an organic farmer about 45 minutes west of us and as we've been expecting...he has recently raised his price to us.  He also put it off as long as HE could. This price increase includes all the organic corn, wheat, barley and rye we buy in order to grind all our own hog and chicken feed.  Specifically our grain is being increased by 50% . Yes, fifty percent.

Innocent Red Wattle babes,
thnking grain grows on trees.
7 days old

He also supplies all our organic hay and, no big surprise, our hay prices will increase as well but our farmer supplier has not yet given us the final price for the green stuff. Soon he tells us. Soon. Being the BRILLIANT blog followers you are, I'll bet you can guess what these increases will mean to our customers, Yup, we are being forced to increase our own meat prices. Economics 101.

We waited as long as we could, watching farmers and grocery stores around us bumping up their prices months ago in preparation for the inevitable grain price income, but we could not validate increasing our prices "just in case." We prefer to react in real time.

Beef and Pork, our biggest sellers, will go up as will our raw milk prices. This will include our per pound price for carcasses as well as the per pound price for the individual cuts we sell in our farm store and the grocery stores we sell to. The process of setting these  new prices is time consuming in itself and not so simple as just increasing everything across the board by 50%  in order to match up with the increased grain prices we are facing.  Instead we will be diligent concerning our costs. Rather than just increasing across the board in one fell sweep (swoop?) we have been doing market research looking at prices for comparable products in our area. "Market research" consists of this Midlife Farmwife.

Mad Max , the King Pin of
South Pork Ranch

This is always a challenge as there are no other certified organic dairy, beef and pork farmers anywhere near us, who sell direct to the consumer as we do. We have also been snooping on similar type operations who sell to the same 4 grocery stores we do. Again, there are none in the immediate area, the grocery stores having to get good portions of their organic meat from out of state from much larger farms than we are. Fortunately though, there is this new invention called the Internet. Full of fabulous information for the taking. Some of it, I have heard, might even be accurate.

Son of Mad Max and Sophie.
Just 8 weeks old

My best method for price comparisons though, are my own eyes and feet. By walking into area grocery stores as well as those up north in Chicago and just jotting down the prices posted in their meat departments, I can gather valuable information in a short amount of time. What is difficult to find though is the wholesale price. Farmers are reluctant to share this, as they should be, which is why I try to gather this info year round , usually done by eavesdropping at different farmer events, and not just at price increase time.

We will also try to project how many beef and hog carcasses we will sell, how many roaster hogs (hogs younger than the usual 6 month market age) might be sold, how many Red Wattle Breeders will be sold, how many non Red Wattle feeder hogs will leave the farm to be raised by other farmers..  whether or not we should participate in any farmers markets and what can we afford to donate to needful organizations.

And when we have completed this process for our pork and beef, we'll take the same steps for out other "Cost centers"

Raw Milk
Free Lance Writing
Animal Talent

Yes, Animal Talent. Yesterday e got a phone call from an Animal Talent Agent in Chicago looking for piglets to use in a commercial. Would involve my driving them in north and then walking them around in leashes. Yeah, I could do that.

Some people refer to us as diversified. I prefer the old fashioned term.



  1. We were expecting poor harvests here too, but in fact they've turned out to be 'average'. Of course this doesn't stop prices from rising!

  2. Hey Cro, its' after midnight here why aren't you in bed? Better question: why am I not in bed? Because finance talk always fuels my insomnia thats why.

  3. Last month the price on a 50 pound bag of pig food went up $2.08 per bag. Fortunately my daughter works for a fruit packing house and has dropped off peaches, nectarines and plums thru the summer for our 2 pigs, plus they have been getting a few buckets of grapes off my vines to keep them happy. It is going to be hard for farmers to break even this year for sure.

  4. I've been kind'a wondering why you haven't posted about price increases for your products as I KNOW you've had to have already seen increases in grain. We don't grow nearly as much meat & milk as you do, and I'm getting worried about the feed situation.....I can't imagine what it feels like in your larger operation.

    Hope you guys get everything worked out and remember, don't feel guilty (well, not that much) about raising prices....everyone else is at the big-store level and it's not fair for the little guys to have to eat all the costs. You know, because we have a conscience, unlike the mega-chains. I felt guilty raising the price of my raw goat milk to $6 a gallon until I found out the store was charging TWELVE bucks a gallon!

    If people want good, organic, humanely raised pork from you, then they are just going to have to pay for it, and most rational-thinking people would understand. You shouldn't be expected to shoulder the costs, you need to eat too!

    Rant finished.

  5. Local feed prices are up her in Pa too. Just in time for winter. We always use more feed in the winter. Hang in there, hopefull it will get better in the spring!

  6. Food prices are increasing here too. Your drought plus our washout.

  7. This is a hoot...use the little hams as actors....well, it will help offset the cost of grain and hay and straw.

  8. Yep, you guessed it... our farm is in one of those "Western" IL counties you mentioned. Specifically, NW IL, and I'm guessing we're in the 16-18 inch rain deficit you mentioned, as we didn't get any of those hurricane rains you all received south of us. Things are B-A-D... my fall vegetables crops are sparse, I'm barely able to fill the CSA member shares. Wells around here are still drying up. As for meat, I'm already guessing we won't be raising the meat chickens again next year. Yep, the cost of grain has gone way up, but it also comes down to other factors.... doing things on such a small scale as we do costs a LOT more (as you know!), so I have to charge more. I also looked around at all the farms within a couple hundred miles raising pastured chickens, and priced mine accordingly. Of course, being in a rural area, many people balked at the price I had to charge. All in all, I think I probably broke even on the darn things. And with the price of grain going up... not to mention that we're still not receiving the rain up here... I'm backing off a lot of livestock plans. I had also planned to increase our goat herd this fall, and didn't.
    All in all, I'm just hoping for a LOT of snow this winter, and wishing we'd get some fall rain... because otherwise I fear we're in for a 2-year drought up here. Just hoping for a decent crop from our vegetable fields next year.
    In response to your walking the piglets on leashes, I had to laugh... because when we got our 4 feeder pigs this spring, they escaped the first night (I quickly learned the benefits of electric fencing, which was purchased the very next day!). Long story short,after we lured them back into their pen we had to figure out a way to get them from the easy-escape pen back into the barn. We tried a collar and leash... only to discover that pigs don't have much of a "neck" to speak of... they kind of resemble our American Bulldog in that regard. Those darn piglets slid their necks right out of those collars and ran away again. Needless to say, my strongest male intern ended up carting the piglets to the barn the old fashioned way with no leashes... holding their back legs and wheelbarrow walking them... it was the only thing that worked (my husband wasn't home, the piglets were scared, and it wasn't a good idea to attempt to lift & carry those 50-pound wriggling piglets alone with my citified-freaking- out-interns and small sons!). So... I'm questioning the whole leash thing! Hahaha! :-). Penny

  9. How cool would that be to walk pigs around on a leash in Chicago. I hope all their talent doesn't turn them into hams!!!

  10. Diversified or Nuts .... yes, depends on the day for most small-time farmers:)) Loved the piggie pictures!

  11. Our Tamworth boar is called Max as well! Prices have risen here in France, but not by quite so much as yours have. Worrying times.

  12. I'm not a farmer nor a farmer's wife or daughter,but I do know that our farmers are having a tough time too. Chatting to a farmer who we live near to said his wheat crop was down but his barley crop was very good. Why? he didn't say. In my own garden, I had a good crop of onion, beans and potatoes, but everything else was poor. It was a cold long spring with no summer and very wet. Lets hope we have a better time next year.

  13. Hog feed prices have doubled since 2008 here. A ton of just regular hog feed is $430 this week here.

  14. Feed prices went up a month and a half ago in NY. We may not do meat birds next year, depending on what happens.

    It's going to be a toughie, that's for sure.

  15. Pigs in space.....errrrr, pigs in chigago....same thing ;-)

    Yep, prices are up on everything... can't add a thing to your arguments 'cause you are 100 percent correct.

    hugs to you and keith....

  16. THere's a hay shortage around us too, but our drought was nowhere near as bad as down in the US. I hope everything works out okay for you in the long run. Maybe you'll just get rich off animal talent! :)

    Lovely pigs you have there.