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"Jeff Helms, Publications Director"
334 613-4212

MONTGOMERY Alabama grocery bills remained steady in February as savings on poultry and produce offset higher prices for beef and dairy products. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was $35.17, down one-tenth of 1 percent from January but down 3.3 percent from a year ago.

Poultry products were the best bargain this month with chicken breasts selling for $1.68 a pound, down 23 cents from January. Fryers also were slightly cheaper at 87 cents a pound, and eggs were 77 cents a dozen, down 8 cents.

On the produce aisle, vegetables from western states helped keep prices low while shoppers await their first taste of Alabama-grown favorites later this spring. Tomatoes were a good buy at $1.11 a pound, down 14 cents from last month, and lettuce was 94 cents a head, down 7 cents. Overall, produce prices were about 7.3 percent lower than in January.

Beef prices rebounded this month after falling 2 percent in January. Ground beef was 8 cents higher at $1.42 a pound while chuck roast climbed to $2.22 a pound, up 27 cents. The upward trend in beef prices is being driven by increased demand, said beef industry experts. During the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and Trade Show last month in Phoenix, officials announced that beef demand rose 3.5 percent in 1999, the first such increase in 20 years. Beef experts credited America's strong economy and new heat-and-serve beef products for contributing to the increase.

Meanwhile, pork prices across the state were unchanged in February after falling 7 percent last month.

At the dairy case, however, market factors may soon result in lower prices for consumers. Although dairy products edged 4.1 percent higher in February, farmers are facing the lowest milk prices they've seen in 20 years. Federal figures released Feb. 4 show the January price for 100 pounds of raw milk sank to $10.05, about 38 percent lower than the $16.27 recorded a year ago. That could mean substantial savings for shoppers during the coming months, experts said.

Regional reports collected from around the state Jan. 31 through Feb. 5 showed the February market basket total averaged $33.51 in northwest Alabama, $34.80 in central Alabama, $35.42 in south Alabama, and $36.26 in northeast Alabama.

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