Agriculture is one of the few sectors of the economy that has ridden the tide of the Great Recession relatively unscathed.
That’s because the world always needs food, said Willie Riggs, director of the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center and an agricultural economist.
While agriculture is a local business, its commodities — beef, potatoes, hay, milk, grains — go to the market, feeding the world’s population. With world population increasing past the 7 billion mark, there is always an expanding market.
“We’re an exporter of food,” Riggs said. “We produce enough food to feed ourselves and everything else is exported out of Klamath County.”
Money coming in
Riggs also said the foods produced in the Klamath Basin cover a range of food staples. Potatoes are a standard. Grains are used for bread and pasta. Milk makes cheese.
Everything else goes toward feeding livestock, or as Riggs puts it, a protein source. For example, Riggs said, Fort Klamath has some of the best grass, but grass isn’t marketable in the traditional sense. It is a place cattle can graze — turning the grass into beef that can be sold.
Not a set price
While agriculture is on the upswing for Klamath County, that does not mean everyone is doing dandy.
Fresh market potatoes, which make up about 8,000 acres in the Basin, did not fare well this year. Gasser said the market just wasn’t there for good profits.
Unlike in some industries, those growing the foods don’t get to set the prices of the product they sell.
“Agriculture is a price taker, not a price setter,” Riggs said. “They get whatever the market bears.”
The price is generally set by supply and demand.
Dealing with a set price can hit farmers and ranchers hard when the cost of their inputs — feed, fertilizer, equipment, and especially fuel — increases. If fuel prices increase but the price for an agricultural product stays the same, the farmer has less to spend elsewhere on his business or in the local economy.
Klamath County producers are facing higher fuel, fertilizer and electricity prices, Riggs said.
“Cattle prices have seen very good prices, unfortunately we’ve also seen record high prices for all our inputs,” agreed local rancher Jason Chapman. “Fuel, power bills, commodity prices — corn is through the roof and so is the hay market. Even though we’re getting paid more for cattle, we spend just as much or more to get to the same point.”