Diesel Disasters: Farmers Struggle To Cope With Increased Fuel Prices

Since diesel engines have been invented, they’ve helped a wide variety of industries thrive. Their fuel efficiency and versatility (there are over 50 different models of diesel engines available to consumers) has made them a staple for farmers in particular. Unfortunately, diesel is not good for the environment, even with fuel filters keeping out the four key impurities water, scale, rust, and dirt, and new regulations pose a serious threat to the livelihood of farmers across the country.

Rising Costs And Rising Concerns

There are over three million farmers in the U.S., many of whom rely on diesel equipment to manage every aspect of their land. Considering the fact that the average farm spans 442 acres, the need for machinery to keep up with such an expansive space is vital. Diesel engines power the majority of them, from planting and seeding equipment to tractors; for example, Kubota, a premier seller of agriculture equipment since 1890, relies heavily on diesel engines. Since you can’t power diesel engines without diesel fuel, farmers are suffering at the hands of rising fuel costs. In California, a gallon of diesel retailed for $3.967 as of April 15, up from $3.778 just one month earlier, and 18 cents higher than the same time in the previous year.

“We live in the West,” said Chris Torres of Princeton, who farms rice and runs a trucking company. “People like myself that live in the middle of the valley, we have to travel 30 minutes to go to a store. Traveling, sitting behind the wheel of our vehicles, is a way of life. It’s a cost that we can’t do anything about.”

The change comes as a result of California’s Senate Bill 1 (also known as SB-1), which expands the focus originally established by the Clean Air Act. In short, they’re interested in preserving, protecting, and enhancing the environment and natural resources in California (which includes national parks, national wilderness areas, national monuments, national seashores, and other areas with special national or regional natural, recreational, scenic, or historic value). Because diesel fuel emissions have been found to contribute to the development of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory health effects, global climate change, and the pollution of air, water, and soil, they are a prime target for SB-1.

The Farming Financial Fallout

If you are a farmer of any crop — including livestock — you’re at risk for the results of these increased taxes. Currently, Senate Bill 1 has caused a 20-cent boost in the excise tax for on-road diesel, impacting those farmers who handle their own transportation.

“On livestock hauling, the rates are pretty much directly correlated with the fuel prices,” said Tom Stewart, a hay grower, cattle rancher, and livestock hauler based in Tulelake. “I’m sure if the price stays up this way for the next few weeks, or goes higher, then yeah, the rates will start reflecting that.”

As Stewart mentions, farmers won’t be the only ones experiencing the fallout from this bill; if farmers are forced to spend more to grow and transport their crops, the only way they’ll be able to make a profit — or simply break even — is to increase the prices of their products.

“What that means for California agriculture, it’s going to hurt our bottom line –whether it’s transporting from field to processor or whether it’s just being able to run our farm equipment,” said Robert Spiegel, policy specialist on transportation issues for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Hopefully, the restrictions presented by Senate Bill 1 and others like it will be offset by green incentives — such as government payouts for using energy-efficient vehicles — but not much has been said so far. Only time will tell.

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