Gas and diesel don’t cost as much as they did a year ago, but Carolina grower-shippers are split on how much relief they’re getting on input costs.

Lower fuel costs this year have “helped out significantly” in lowering the burden of input costs, said Curtis Smith, president of TC Smith Produce Farm Inc., Seven Springs, N.C.

If only other input costs would follow suit, growers might get some real, long-term relief.

“It’s still kind of a fight for survival,” he said. “It’s not easy. Potassium is still very high, cardboard’s up a little and plastic is about the same.”

Labor ranks as another high cost for TC Smith Produce Farms, Smith said. But he’s not complaining, given the quality of it.

“We use H-2A labor, and we haven’t had any issues with it,” he said. “It’s expensive, but they seem to do a real good job for us.”

Smith did not anticipate any labor shortages in 2009.
Leonard Small Jr., owner of Virginia Fork Produce Co. Inc., Edenton, N.C., had a more upbeat take on input costs.

“They’re a little bit down, about 20%,” he said. “Fuel’s come down and fertilizer’s come gradually down. Chemicals are about the same.”

James Sharp, president of Wilson, N.C.-based Fresh-Pick, looked forward to lower input costs. They just haven’t arrived quite yet.

“On fertilizer, there should be some delayed savings,” he said. “We probably won’t see it until the end of the year. There’s a lot of old inventory, bought at a high price, that has to go through the system.”