Friday, March 28, 2014

Food prices highest since 2011; beef price a record

It's getting harder to feed a family these days. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said overall food prices rose 0.4 percent in February, the biggest increase since September 2011, while beef prices have hit the highest price on record, Paul Davidson reports for USA Today. "Droughts, unusually cold winter weather, rising exports and a virus outbreak in the hog population are among the causes of food inflation, which is expected to accelerate in 2014." Grocery store prices are expected to increase as much as 3.5 percent in 2014, up from 0.9 percent last year.

The biggest price increase came in beef, which rose from January to February from $5.04 per pound to $5.28 per pound, the highest price in records that go back to 1987, Davidson writes. Drought and the recession shrunk the U.S.. cattle herd to 88 million, the smallest number since 1951. Beef prices have risen 22 percent during the past year. The drought has also made it hard to feed cattle, killing off grass, and leading to high hay prices, Joe Taschler reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. John Freitag, executive director of the Wisconsin Beef Council, told Taschler, "They can't eat wind, water and scenery." (Sentinel graphic)
Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has killed about 6 million pigs, reducing the herd by 10 percent, leading prices to rise 6.8 percent during the past year to $3.73 a pound in February, Davidson writes. Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics said "he expects the smaller inventory to boost per-pound prices to $4 by summer." Poultry prices increased 4.7 percent last year.

Milk rose from $3.46 a gallon in October to $3.56 in January because of a surge in exports to Asia, according to consulting firm Advanced Economic Solutions, Davidson writes. "Retailers have been hit by a 36 percent wholesale price increase since December, and prices could rise another 25 cents to 50 cents this year."

Fruits and vegetables have been hit hard by "cold weather in California and a 'citrus greening' disease in Florida have damaged citrus crops," causing orange prices to rise 3.4 percent from January to February, while strawberries are up 12 percent from last year," Davidson writes. "Analyst Michael Swanson says prices for other fruits and vegetables could spike this year, depending on the damage caused by California's drought." (Read more)

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