Metro Detroit farmers struggle to make ends meet amid rising fuel costs

Owners at Crooked Creek Farm Dairy say they’ll be lucky to break even this year

ROMEO, Mich. – At Crooked Creek Farm Dairy at the Northern edge of Romeo, there is an actual runway for small aircrafts used by people picking up homespun ice cream and dairy products.

The owners of the small farm are the last generation that will be on this land. But even in their final years of loving and living the farm life, it has gotten incredibly difficult.

The state of Michigan ranks fifth in the nation for milk production, with Crooked Creek producing about 600 gallons of milk each day. The milk is processed, jugged and sold directly to consumers in their small farm and dairy store, as well as independent and chain grocery stores throughout Metro Detroit.

As part of a co-op program, surplus milk is sold and carted away in a tanker truck. The female cows have babies, who grow up to become milk cows. The male cows grow to become meat.

Absolutely everything is done on the Crooked Creek farm: From growing the food that feeds the food, to birthing, raising, milking and selling to slaughter. And along every single step of the way, the word “fuel” is used.

“It looks like it’s going to be about $23,000 more just for this small operation just in fuel,” said Dory Hill, co-owner of the farm.

Dory Hill and her partner Greg Hill have worked this farm for more than 40 years.

“We don’t have mortgages,” Dory Hill said. “Our farm is paid for, and it’s going to be a struggle.”

The world’s farmers are all connected in some way, and there is a domino effect when farming starts to fall.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin cuts off displaced civilians in Ukraine from food, the world’s hunger numbers will grow exponentially. In Ukraine, 70% of that nation’s land is used to feed the world. It provides 18% of the globe’s barley, 16% of its corn and 12% of its wheat.

Related: EU proposes aid package to help farmers weather Ukraine war

The rising hunger numbers and fuel costs aren’t the only factors impacting farmers. Inflation has a significant impact on the farming industry, and many farmers have already called it quits.

“There are already farmers that have retired being that this is coming,” Greg Hill said. “After this year, with the added expense and everything, I’d say there’s going to be a lot less.”

The Hills will eat because they’re still growing food. These farmers will still get paid because they’re still selling milk. This year, however, they say they will not make any profit. They will be lucky if they break even.

They may even sink into the red.

The Hills say that their biggest struggle is keeping prices low enough for their customers to be able to afford what they’re selling.

“I see a lot of people coming in here that can’t afford milk, and sometimes it’s really hard to put the price up and then watch them come in and have to pay it,” Dory Hill said.

“Everything is compounding for the farmers, big time. Fertilizer went up ... four times the price. So, crops are going to be a lot less this year. But they still have to make the same amount of trips over the field, which is going to use the same amount of fuel, but they won’t have the fertilizer on it to make the same amount of food.”

To help cover their costs, the Hills have imposed small fuel surcharges, including $3 per delivery and an extra 25 cents per jug of milk to cover the price increase of the containers.

However, the partners haven’t increased their prices to address their total costs. While they know they will survive this, the Hills say they are afraid for others.

Watch the full report in the video player above.

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About the Author:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's married and the stepmother of three beautiful and brilliant daughters. Her personal philosophy in life, love and community is, "Do as much as you can possibly do, not as little as you can possibly get away with".