"BEEF, PORK PRICES PUSH FOOD BILL HIGHER"
"MONTGOMERY, Ala." Increased demand for beef and pork coupled with reduced imports of meat from countries with foot-and-mouth disease helped push Alabama food prices 1.7 percent higher in April. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was $37.82, up 65 cents from March and up $1.70 from a year ago.
In the meat case, beef prices were up for the fifth time in the past six months as annual per capita consumption topped 69.5 pounds, an increase of 1.5 percent from last year. Federation Beef Director Raleigh Wilkerson said the development of easy-to-prepare beef products has contributed to the increased demand.
"Three years ago, producer-funded checkoff programs began promoting a new category of fully cooked roasts, steaks and other entrees that can be heated in the microwave," Wilkerson said. "These products can be prepared in just a few minutes and have become very popular with working families."
Wilkerson said severe winter weather in the nation's main feeding areas also impacted beef prices by reducing the number of cattle ready for market. This month, beef prices were up 2.9 percent with T-bone steaks selling for $6.51 a pound and ground beef ringing in at $1.61 a pound, both up 7 cents. Pork prices also were 6.7 percent higher due to a 40-cent a pound increase in the price of pork chops. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, import bans on pork from Denmark--a major U.S. supplier--helped push retail prices higher in late March. The report also predicted that Denmark's foot-and-mouth disease status could add volatility to U.S. pork prices throughout the spring.
Meanwhile, bargain hunters enjoyed savings on poultry this month as prices plunged 9 percent. Chicken breasts were $1.53 a pound, down 23 cents, while fryers were a good buy at 89 cents a pound, down 2 cents. Egg prices rebounded to 97 cents a dozen in April, up 10 cents.
Dairy prices for the month were basically unchanged as higher prices for milk and butter offset savings on ice cream. According to the food price survey, a half-gallon of ice cream averaged $2.62 this month, down 13 cents. A half-gallon of milk was 3 cents higher at $1.80, and butter averaged $2.65 a pound, up a nickel.
On the produce aisle, tomatoes were up 17 cents at $1.42 a pound while a head of lettuce was a dime cheaper at $1.01. Overall, produce prices were 2.2 percent higher, but Don Wambles, administrator of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, said shoppers soon will be able to buy fresh, Alabama-grown fruits and vegetables.
"Farmers markets in south Alabama will have a variety of fresh produce toward the end of this month," Wambles said. "In the northern counties, shoppers should be able to find late greens and strawberries by the first of May with the majority of produce arriving between May 20 and the first of June."
Regional reports collected from around the state April 1-8 show that the market basket averaged $36.95 in northwest Alabama, $37.03 in the central counties, $38.32 in the northeast corner of the state and $38.69 in south Alabama.