H-SANTA MARIA

Feb 24, 2011 9:31 PM by Ariel Wesler

Soaring diesel prices could prove costly to consumers

You can expect to pay more for just about everything, if diesel prices continue to climb.

Diesel in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties is hovering around $4 a gallon, which is higher than the state average.

Central Coast growers and shippers depend heavily on diesel fuel to harvest and transport their crops. Those higher production costs could eventually trickle down to your kitchen table.

For farmers, it's all about diesel, from the equipment used to harvest the crops to the trucks responsible for delivering them.

"The concern is we could have a sustained, very high prices for our fuel for the next six months," said Grower-Shipper Association President Richard Quandt.

Higher prices mean higher shipping costs, which could translate into fewer orders from east coast buyers who depend on California's produce, especially during the winter months.

"People stop wanting to ship as much. They start cutting back. They ship just as much as they have to," said Matt Garcin, a truck driver from Paso Robles.

Farmers are also expecting to pay more for fertilizer, which is also a petroleum product.

Farmers say if fuel prices continue to climb, the rising costs of doing business in the fields could eventually affect what you pay at the grocery stores.>

Growers estimate we could see the price of produce jump as much as 10 to 20 percent.

"As we get into the summer months, there's usually more fuel being consumed overall, and there seems to be a potential disruption of supplies," Quandt said.

"When we start getting back to $4 a gallon, we start having problems and if we get to %5, we start having real problems," Garcin said.

To give you an idea of the economy's domino effect, some analysts estimate every penny increase at the pump results in a $1.5 billion dollar loss in household spending nationwide.

The highest average cost recorded for diesel fuel on the Central Coast was back in July of 2008. San Luis Obispo County hit $5.26. Santa Barbara County topped out at $5.22.

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