PATASKALA, Ohio — Consumers have likely noticed the price of items like bacon and other foods on the rise, if those items can be found in stores at all.
10TV talked with a local farmer about the challenges they are facing now and how those challenges could impact consumers’ bottom line.
It starts with understanding farming – what happens between the pasture and the shelves, Brad Heimerl, swine production leader for Heimerl Family Farm.
“It’s important that people realize, you know, that this is a farm community,” Heimerl said, of his family farm sits in Licking County.
The Heimerl Family Farm was started by Brad’s father in 1975, although their farming roots in the area go much deeper.
The Heimerls grow corn, soybeans and wheat, along with cows and hogs.
“Our farm resides just outside of Columbus and so obviously, inherently we know that there’s going to be folks that venture out this way that maybe don’t understand the lifestyle of farming and the noises, the smells, the equipment that’s on the roadways and stuff,” he said.
If visitors didn’t realize that before, they certainly do now in nearby Pataskala where the mayor hopes to remind residents and visitors alike that the community values its farmers.
Mayor Mike Compton recently installed signs around the city that say, “A right to farm community.”
“If you’re gonna come out here, know that we’ve got some wide-open spaces and you might get stuck behind a combine or a grain truck or a tractor and you might have to pull over to the side, and when they start fertilizing and bringing that chicken stuff from Croton, that you might have a little smell in your backyard for a while,” Compton said.
It’s a small gesture with a big message about where the community started and who is keeping it going, even during challenging times.
“Ultimately, our goal is to feed the world, you know, that's what we're doing,” Heimerl said. “So, next time you're following a piece of farming equipment, just remind yourself that, as a human population we may not agree on much; seems like today we don't agree on a lot, but there's one thing we do agree on and that's that we must eat and that process starts with a farmer.”
Understanding farming and what goes into it, Heimerl continued, can help people better understand the products they’re buying.
“Sometimes we get complacent, we as in the general public, get complacent on what that process looks like. Pork doesn't just come from a shelf at Kroger, beef doesn't just come from the next supermarket you go pick it up at, there's a whole process before that,” he said. “That starts with farms. That starts with the animals out in the pasture. That starts with the combine you're following down the road.”
Today’s farmers face new challenges heightened by the pandemic, Heimerl explained.
“For the farming community, just like everybody else, we have labor issues as well, you know, being able to staff in the right departments and stuff,” he said.
The shortages range from parts and equipment like semi-truck tires to truck drivers themselves, Heimerl added.
“I had a person once tell me that everything comes on a truck except for the oxygen you breathe and sometimes that’s not even true,” he said.
For Tony Tanner, owner of Butcher and Grocer, the store gets its products directly from Ohio farmers.
“Because we’re so dedicated to Ohio farmers, we don’t have as many of the same problems, like big chain grocery stores that rely on commodity products coming from Kansas or overseas. Our farmers bring all of our meat to us and we process it out by our plant by the airport,” Tanner said, adding that the truck driver shortage isn’t causing them as much of a headache.
“Our shelves aren't empty because we're working with Peanut Butter and Jenny, who makes her peanut butter right here in Columbus. We're using Ann's raspberries for jelly, we've got all of our beers here from Ohio,” he said.
But the supply of other products, a lack of processing space and local staffing is giving the business trouble.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing now isn’t necessarily the supply of meat,” Tanner said. “It’s the other stuff like latex gloves; the things that people don’t really realize are needed by us.”
As the Butcher and Grocer prepares to open another shop, Tanner told 10TV local staffing is a major pain point, as he scrambled to find people to work the counters.
“We’re trying to hire folks that love to be around food, want to learn, but it’s still really really hard because we’re competing against companies that are starting people out at $25 an hour,” Tanner said.
But despite the challenges, Heimerl and Tanner both say their business is doing alright and that it’s the consumer who could see the biggest impact at the register.
“We carry a premium product because we work with premium farmers so our prices are a little bit higher but now, they’re starting to come in more align with what you get from commodity, which is like, it just baffles you that it would get that expensive when it doesn’t need to,” Tanner said. We produce a lot of bacon out of our shop and you’re going to pay basically the same price with us that you do at any of the big stores now.”
Gaps in the system, Heimerl explains, are pushing those prices up.
“So, bacon, as you mentioned, is at a very high price and a lot of that goes back to the labor shortages that you’re seeing at the packing plants, things of that nature,” Heimerl said. “It’s scary. It’s something to pay attention to but we hope that that day is coming where things will kind of level themselves back out.”
Until that day, Heimerl told 10TV he encourages anyone curious about what they’re buying and what goes into it, to find out for themselves.
“If you have the time to stop and talk to a farmer, please do. We’ll be happy to share what we do and why we do it. There’s always a why, you know, don’t assume,” Heimerl said.
To learn more about Heimerl Family Farms, click here.
To learn more about the Butcher and Grocer, click here.
For more information on careers in agriculture, click here.
For more information on support for agriculture business here in Ohio, click here.