SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Local farmers cannot control escalating costs, and as a result of soaring inflation, they warn that production could be lower than normal while consumer prices could be high.

Farmers in Sullivan County told News Channel 11 that costs have gone up in every aspect of producing food, whether it be fuel, fertilizer, feed, seeds, or labor.

Sullivan County UT Extension Agent Chris Ramsey said farmers operate on a fixed budget with little to no wiggle room.

“They don’t have any control over the price that they’re paying for the feed that they get and same with diesel fuel, you cannot get the hay in the barn, or feed the cattle without the tractor and they’re kind of forced to pay whatever price we’re seeing for the diesel fuel to make all this work,” he said.

Ramsey said he has seen local farmers face difficulty in the past, but not like this.

“I would compare it to the drought of like 2010 when we saw cattle numbers start to drop drastically. And you know, it’s a major impact on our local agriculture community,” Ramsey said.

Zane Vanover was recently elected as a Sullivan County commissioner, but he is also the county’s Farm Bureau president and a beef producer.

He said the cost of farming is two to three times higher than before the pandemic. As the local chapter president, Vanover cited that Farm Bureau reports that of every $10 spent on a farm, $8 is related to oil.

“So that means your fuel for your tractors, your lubricants for your tractors feed is made by using oil, fertilizer, of course, is a big byproduct of oil. So all those items add up to just huge expenses that some farmers can absorb, some can’t,” Vanover said.

He added that many farmers have or will leave the business because of these potential losses.

As a beef producer, he said the cost of meat has already seen a drastic increase recently.

“When you get to the grocery store don’t blame the farmers,” Vanover said. “What you see at the grocery store is certainly not what we’re getting at the market when we sell our calves.”

With production costs at a high, Vanover predicts a lower agricultural production yield this year.

“I think it has to be less production,” he said. “When you apply less fertilizer, there’s going to be less products produced there’s going to be less hay, there’s going to be less corn. If you’ve got less feed, you’re going to have less cattle. So I think everybody’s going to produce a little bit less. And this is just one of those tough times and we’ll get through.”

Vanover, like Ramsey, has been around the farming block for many years.

“I’ve never seen it like this before most people haven’t. But this is just a time where you just tighten your belt and get through it and look for better days ahead and then there will be better days ahead,” Vanover said.

“So it’ll be a year when farmers don’t make any profits. If you do, you’re very lucky. You just try to get through it and hope for a better year next year.”

Tony Slaughter is a produce farmer who grows fruit and vegetables for the regional grocer, Food City.

He too has seen exorbitant costs to keep his production the same as in years past.

“We had an order placed for the items that we use to pick strawberries in. And our next shipment of those that will arrive on Thursday is double the price of the ones we’ve got today,” he said.

Slaughter explained that he has had to keep production the same to meet demand, but at a much higher cost.

“Food City likes to hold the cost down for the consumers as much as possible. Unfortunately, we’re in a situation now that our costs in production have increased so dramatically that I’m afraid that in time, the cost to the consumers are going to increase. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it,” Slaughter said.

“Cutting corners would impact our production significantly. So our yields at least on this strawberry crop are a little bit better than last year. And hopefully, on the other crops that we grow, we will have yields comparable to last year. It’s just going to cost a lot more money to do it.”

Slaughter grows strawberries, tomatoes, all sorts of pepper, green beans, sweet corn, yellow squash, zucchini, squash, onions, cucumber, and cucumbers, and he also has cattle, sheep, poultry, and hogs.

He said the cost of every aspect of his production has gone up, aside from fertilizer and fuel, and he has seen an increase in the cost of certain chemicals, irrigation equipment, as well as labor.

“Unfortunately, most times when things go up, it’s some time before they ever come back down, if ever,” Slaughter said.

In a statement to News Channel 11, Food City representatives said the grocer has not seen a decrease in food production from its sources.

The farmers who News Channel 11 spoke with said the local impact will be minimal in terms of food shortages. While there may be fewer products on shelves and those may be at a higher cost, there should still be enough food to go around, they said.