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A N.C. cattle farmer describes inflation's impact on his operations


Annual inflation stands at 8.3%, a number that can mean different things to different people. Let's find out what it means to Tommy Porter, who runs a livestock and cattle farm in Mount Pleasant, N.C. Mr. Porter, thank you so much for being with us.

TOMMY PORTER: Yes, sir. Glad to be here.

SIMON: And are you feeling the effects of inflation?

PORTER: Yes, sir, very much so. Our operation - I would call it a very diversified farm. As far as livestock, we have pigs, we have cattle, we have poultry, and we have greenhouses. We also do agritourism, which is primarily - we found out that people like to get married on a farm, so we do weddings. But as diversified as we are, none of that is inflation-proof. Inflation hits every aspect of what we do.

SIMON: Well, help us understand. What do you have to pay more for these days?

PORTER: Well, I guess the No. 1 factor would be fuel. Fuel touches everything we do, not only the tractors, the equipment that we run on the farm. And we burn more fuel this time of year than we do most any other time. But everything we get - fertilizer, chemicals, seed - everything is as much as two to four times what it was a year ago. So those prices are just hitting us really hard, and we're not able to pass our cost on. Farmers are price takers, not price makers.

SIMON: Help us understand that, because, you know, in a lot of fields, if it costs more to produce something, people pass those prices along to the consumers so they can stay in business. Why is it hard for farmers to do that?

PORTER: Well, farmers, we - when we sell a product, our commodities, whether it's livestock or grain or corn or whatever, the price is set by whatever the market is. And just take, for instance, cattle. All of our input cost to raise these cattle are costing us anywhere from two to three times more than it did a year ago, and the price of cattle is the same thing as it was a year ago.

SIMON: Do you worry about how long you can keep taking losses?

PORTER: We will get through. We'll make it through. We always have. And we'll figure out a way to make it work. But there are some farmers that maybe are not as diversified as we are that'll put a crop in and borrow money to put that crop in, and if they don't make a good crop - commodity prices aren't good, or if weather is not favorable - then, you know, I don't know that, you know, everybody can be able to pull through.

SIMON: Mr. Porter, I'm wondering what you might say to people who are listening today who are going to go to the market and say, look; I got to pay more for bread. I got to pay more for peanut butter. I got to pay more for the slice of ham I put in the sandwich that our daughter brings to school. It's costing us more and more for the everyday things of life, and we have to cut back.

PORTER: I would say, I would like for the consumer to understand the farmer is not getting that extra money that you're paying for that. My family goes to the grocery store and buys grocery just like everyone else. My wife comes home and complains, hey, the shelves are empty. I can't get it, and what I can find is costing way more than it used to. But the farmer is not receiving any more for the commodities or the products that he's producing than we did a year ago.

SIMON: Mr. Porter, may I ask, have you had to let any of your employees go during this period?

PORTER: No, sir. We have not. We have - I have three grown children. They work full time on the farm - two sons and a daughter. Their spouses also work full time on the farm. And we have about 15 to 20 other employees, but we have not let anybody go. And, frankly, I'm afraid to let anybody go because labor is so hard to find nowadays that if we let somebody go and then we turn around and would need somebody else, it's not that easy to hire people.

SIMON: Mr. Porter, with so many family members helping you out and working there, are you ever tempted to turn to them and say, you know, this is not a good life, this is not a good way to make a living?

PORTER: No, I have never thought about telling my children, you need to go find something else to do. They all went to college. They had other careers and then decided - it was their choice - to come back to the farm. It's a good life. It's a wonderful life. And it's a way of life and a wonderful place to raise your children. It's a wonderful place for my grandchildren to grow up. But it's a hard life. I didn't get in till 10:00 last night, and that's not the only night this week that's been like that. But still, I wouldn't trade it for anything else. And I think you'd find that most farmers are that way.

SIMON: Tommy Porter of Porter Farms Inc., Mount Pleasant, N.C. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

PORTER: Well, thank you. I have certainly enjoyed it. And we love what we do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.