"Farming uses a significant about of diesel. For farmers in South-Central Kansas, it's the fifth largest cash expense."
Fuel prices are expected to rise in 2017, which means farmers may have to tighten budgets in the next 12 months.
A GasBuddy study projects gasoline prices to average about $2.49 per gallon this year, 36 cents higher than in 2016. Diesel is expected to cost an average of $2.71 this year, an increase of 58 cents compared to 2016.
"Farming uses a significant about of diesel. For farmers in South-Central Kansas, it's the fifth largest cash expense," said Jay Warner, a McPherson County farmer.
Warner said in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the average farm spent $25,000 on fuel, or an average of $16 per acre. Those numbers are higher in McPherson County, with an average of $21 spent on fuel per acre of farmland.
"I don't know whether that's because of farm size or different crop rotations," Warner said. "It's one of those odd things."
According to GasBuddy data, the average cost of diesel in 2015 was $2.40 per gallon, about 31 cents lower than 2017's projections. However, the upfront cost of fuel is not the only way rising fuel prices can affect farm operations.
"The number one expense on farms is fertilizer, which is made from natural gas," Warner said. "When fuel and energy prices go up, fertilizer costs go up too."
Warner said there are enough buffers between producers and consumers that the increase in fuel prices may not be felt at the grocery store checkout stand. It will, however, be felt in farmers' bottom lines.
"If fuel prices go up in 2017, and income doesn't increase — and so far, grains aren't up — it'll be really tight on farmers for a few more years," Warner said.