USDA says drought will raise food prices in 2013

Consumers should expect higher prices for milk, eggs and meat, analysts say.
By STEVE KARNOWSKI Modified: July 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm •  Published: July 26, 2012
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The drought gripping more than half the country is a major reason why consumers can expect to pay 3 percent to 4 percent more for groceries next year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

Milk, eggs, beef, poultry and pork prices will all be affected because the drought has pushed up prices for feed, and that will eventually translate into higher prices for steaks, hamburger, pork chops and chicken. The good news is that prices for fruits and vegetables, as well as processed foods, aren't affected as much by the drought.

Exactly how much more people might pay for a pound of hamburger, for example, isn't known because those prices are affected by lots of factors, including how much of the increase a given supermarket might pass along to the consumer. But beef prices as a whole are expected to see the biggest jump at 4 percent to 5 percent, according to the USDA.

Dairy product prices are forecast to climb 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent; poultry and egg prices are projected to rise 3 percent to 4 percent; and pork prices are expected to rise 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent in 2013, the agency said.

“In 2013 as a result of this drought we are looking at above-normal food price inflation. … Consumers are certainly going to feel it,” USDA economist Richard Volpe said.

Normal grocery price inflation is about 2.8 percent a year, Volpe said, so even a 3 percent increase is slightly higher than usual.

The new forecasts are the agency's first food price projections to factor in the drought, though experts have been warning for a few weeks that prices will rise. As fields dry out and crops wither across much of the country's midsection, prices for corn, soybeans and other commodities have soared in anticipation of tight supplies. That means farmers and ranchers will have to pay more to feed their livestock. Food prices typically climb about 1 percent for every 50 percent increase in average corn prices, according to agricultural economists.