I drove by a sign today offering an oil change and “complete service, only $29.95." It made me smile strangely – I think it’s called a ‘wry’ smile - thinking that I can’t even buy the air filter element for my tractor for under $30. The oil filter itself is $20, and I buy my filters at the “fleet discount” price. The oil, six gallons (no, not quarts, GALLONS) cost me $2.86 per quart ($68.64, for 6 gallons) when I bought 200 gallons in bulk two years ago. Oil change, with oil and air filter for one tractor:$130.00. I have two of these tractors, and they both get serviced twice a year. It costs me over $500.00 per year, just to change oil in my tractors.
The price of wheat today is $7.35/bushel, for wheat delivered to an export terminal in Portland, Kalama or Longview. I pay the freight and handling cost, the trucking to get my wheat from the country elevator to the Snake River and the barge cost from the Snake to the lower Columbia. It amounts to about $0.80/bushel, leaving me a net of roughly $6.55/bushel, if I had any wheat to sell today (I don’t). Today’s price for next year’s crop to be delivered in August is $0.35 less, which would leave me a net of $6.20/bu for next years wheat , and that assumes I have no dockage or quality discounts. My average net per bushel last year was $6.32. Who knows what it will be for 2014, but for last year, it took me 79 bushels just to change the tractor’s oil.
Last year, my crops were a little better than average, the wheat yielding 76 bushels/acre. Two weeks ago, soil moisture was about half of normal, and the long range forecast says it will be a wet spring, followed by a hot, dry summer. The weather pattern called El Nino is back, so who knows what yields will be like this year, but for 2013, it took me a little over an acre of wheat just to pay for changing the tractor’s oil.
I don’t know if you are sensing a pattern here or not. I don’t know what my year’s labor will buy. Right now, farmers are growing “some” wheat that will be worth “some” money about August or maybe September, or maybe it will be so hot and dry in June and July that it will burn up and what little there is will be harvested in July. As farmers, we are almost always laboring for an undetermined, and undeterminable, wage, and absolutely no negotiable benefits. I have made the mistake of doing the little math involved in calculating my hourly wage before, but it was a long time ago, and I don’t need that kind of depressing information on my mind.
I am not going to think about the cost of oil change for the combine, or the trucks, or the utility tractor, or the sprayer. I’m going to think about our family car, “only $29.95."