Driving costsWritten by Jennifer Womack
Fuel costs keep challenging Wyo ag
“Our fuel expenses have gone up from first quarter of ‘07 to first quarter ‘08 by 60 percent,” says Dennis Huckfeldt, owner of Torrington-based Huckfeldt Trucking.
Pull into the local truck stop to fuel up your tractor trailer and he says, “Right now, on today’s prices, it’s going to cost $1,100 to $1,150.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts diesel will average $3.62 per gallon in 2008, 26 percent higher than the 2007 average. So far in 2008, diesel prices have risen more than 18 percent.
“Fuel price crisis,” is the term the American Trucking Association (ATA) uses to refer to the problem they say is a threat to the backbone of America’s economy - the trucking industry. It’s also a crisis driving the cost of nearly every input for American agriculture. “At the current price, compared with five years earlier,” says information from the ATA, “it costs 155 percent, or $720, more to fuel up a typical tractor-trailer. Compared with 10 years earlier, it costs 271 percent, or $866, more to fuel up a typical tractor-trailer.” ATA says a one-cent change in diesel prices results in a million dollar a year difference for the nation’s trucking industry.
“First quarter of ‘07 to first quarter of ’08 I have not raised my freight charges,” says Huckfeldt, “but my fuel surcharge has gone up 58 percent from a year ago to this year.” It’s a difficult situation for Huckfeldt Trucking and its customers for multiple reasons.
It’s not the only area where Wyoming agriculture is seeing increased costs. “If you got it, it was brought by a truck,” says Huckfeldt. “Fuel surcharges are going up on all of the industry.” He adds, “It’s also affecting anything made from, or using, petroleum. On anything from paper to cows, it all has to do with trucking.”
“It’s affecting every single thing we do, not just what shows at the pump or on the fuel bill,” says Greybull rancher Mary Flitner. “Everything we do, everywhere we go, everything we grow or buy or sell has its worth altered by fuel costs, probably several times along the way. We’ll have to hope our market allows us to pass this cost on, as other industries are doing.”
“We’re seeing it a lot with farmers and the inputs for their fields,” says Jana Shimic of Lingle-based L&M Irrigation. “Fertilizer has more than doubled.” Noting that underground irrigation pipe is a petroleum-based product she adds, “The cost of fuel has not only affected our grain business, but our irrigation business as well.”
While grain prices have gone up, Shimic says farmers aren’t making more money than before because of escalating input costs. “It’s not better than it was before, we’re just operating at a higher level than we were,” she explains.
Fuel efficiency has consistently increased since Huckfeldt’s grandfather launched the trucking business in 1942, but he says he’d like to see that effort continue. By reducing speeds and running a smaller generator for overnight stays, he says the industry is doing its part to make fuel go farther. His business has also added fairings to the tops of trucks to make them more aerodynamic. “We’re also trying to work more loaded miles versus miles ran,” he says, noting that’s easier in some segments of the industry. Hauling cattle usually calls for running only one direction loaded.
Huckfeldt would also like to see the state reconsider its weight limits on highways, but says he realizes there are trade-offs with road damage and maintenance. “We need to work with alternative fuels, not necessarily for the transportation sector, but in the energy generation industry,” he says. “All of that would cut petroleum free to be used for cars and trucks.”