As farm profits have fallen across the United States, Wright has been able to dodge much of the turbulence by bypassing the stores and cooperatives and selling his own dairy products directly to consumers. He's been able to spend less on feed for his cows because his pastures are good for them to graze in. But even with these insulators, he's not immune to the force of the recession.
"A year ago, we were selling about 25 percent more milk than we are today," Wright said.
Wright's drop in business is a reflection of what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts will be a national problem this year.
The USDA reported last Thursday that net farm income — the measure of earnings in the farming sector — is expected to fall from a preliminary $87.2 billion estimate in 2008 to $54 billion in 2009, which represents a 38 percent drop in farm profits. This year's prediction is $9 billion less than the average $63.2 billion earned in each of the past 10 years.
"The whole economy is suffering, but agriculture is really in a predicament," said Max Runge, an agricultural economist at Auburn University. "Prices are down, input costs are up, and the outlook is pretty tough."
Economists say the drop in farming revenue is attributable to several factors mostly related to supply and demand. Walter Prevatt, an agricultural economist at Auburn University, cited lower beef and cattle product demand as a notable example of weakness in the farming sector.
"Whenever you move a level of unemployment up significantly, you're taking a lot of people out of the market that would buy beef," Prevatt said. "Fewer people buying means the price falls considerably.
"Additionally, it's not just the meat that we eat, but the leather that goes into automobile seats. The reduction in cars being made means they need much less leather," he said.
Runge said favorable weather in 2008 added to supply, as market demand began to sputter.
"Last year was a good growing year in Alabama, so with that in mind, producers were looking to plant a few more acres of some crops … we ended up with more production, which pushed prices down," said Runge.
Locally, farmers like Wright are doing what they can to keep their heads above water.
"We had to reduce staff by one person, which is a pretty good bit considering our size," said Wright. "When sales go down, you look for ways to cut back. You have to let help go, you look for ways to cut energy consumption; you take old tractors that need to be replaced and work on them instead of buying new ones."
Tim Donaldson, partner owner of Ohatchee Farm LLC, said the hog farm's profit margins had dropped 10 to 15 percent from 2008.
"We may be forced to scale back production and the number of pigs we have," said Donaldson. "We're trying to be more diligent with saving on energy costs. We just have to wait it out and wait for prices to come back up."
Runge said it may be hard for farmers to find many more ways to cut costs.
"I think we've reached the point where we're doing as much as we can with what we have. It's hard to become any more efficient and harder to save costs anywhere," he said.
Until things turn around, Wright says he's thankful that his farm is able to get by.
"We've been able to make it, but we're not selling as much. It makes duct tape and hay baling wires your best friends," he said.