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Popcorn maker feels effects of inflation on farm

Bob Ralph holding corn kernels
Posted at 10:15 AM, Jan 05, 2023

PRINCETON, Kan. — Bob Ralph knew nothing about agriculture or corn when he bought a farm in Princeton, Kansas, in 2012.

"I bought a one-pound bag of cheap, commodity popcorn and stuck it in the ground by hand, and low and behold it grew," Ralph said.

Farmer Bob, as he calls himself, also has pigs and cows.

"The aspect here with the feed is, basically, I consider it free," Ralph said.

He uses corn that's not good enough for consumers as feed.

"I’m not having to pay the higher feed costs," he said. "So that helps with the inflation."

Farmers have been facing inflation challenges since last summer.

"Nearly every single thing relating to farming went up so very much that there was a huge cash requirement," Ralph said.

Everything from seeds to fertilizers and chemicals doubled or even tripled in price.

"Not to mention diesel, the fuel that agriculture runs on, has been extremely expensive," he said.

Ralph's business Princeton Popcorn sells direct to consumers, cutting out the middle man.

Unlike other brands on grocery store shelves, Ralph is able to control his prices and is doing his best to avoid raising them by absorbing additional costs. But not having extra cash on hand for emergencies causes him stress.

"I’ve also put off some purchases of additional equipment because I had to allocate that money toward my crop," he said. "If I don’t get a crop planted, I don’t have a business."

Ralph says the worst-case scenario for a farmer is paying high, inflated prices early in the spring only to have the commodity price drop in the fall.

"You work really hard to lose money," he said.

Despite tough times, he's working to not let one kernel go to waste.

"Consumers, I think, are getting used to the fact that everything goes up," Ralph said. "So if I do go up in my price, it probably won’t be a huge shock to anybody."