LOWER FOOD PRICES COULD BE SHORT LIVED
MONTGOMERY, Ala. Holiday sales and promotions pushed Alabama food prices 4 tenths of a percent lower in September, but strong demand for beef has experts predicting higher prices in the coming months. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the average cost of 20 basic market basket items was $39.85 the first week of September, down 17 cents from August but up $2.61 from a year ago.
Surveys collected by volunteer shoppers throughout the state Sept. 1-8 showed prices were lower for beef and poultry but were higher for pork, produce and dairy products. Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley said Labor Day promotions could have contributed to the drop in retail beef prices, but he warned shoppers could see prices rebound next month.
"Right now we are seeing record-high prices for feeder calves and market cattle. The higher prices are the result of record demand and short supplies," Mobley said. "Persistent drought during the past several years caused beef producers in the High Plains and Mountain West to liquidate their herds or reduce cow numbers. That's reduced the overall supply of feeder cattle in the U.S. The ban this spring on imports of live cattle from Canada further reduced supply."
Mobley said industry leaders are predicting higher prices at the retail level in the near future. But as prices increase, they expect demand to ease, which should cause prices to stabilize over the long term.
This month, beef prices dropped 2.7 percent as the average cost of T-bone steaks decreased 32 cents to $6.62 a pound. Chuck roasts were 14 cents cheaper at $2.61 a pound, but ground beef was 15 cents higher at $1.74 a pound. Meanwhile, pork prices rebounded after falling in August. Pork chops averaged $3.11 a pound, up 8 cents, and bacon was 4 cents higher at $3.10 a pound. Poultry was a good buy with the average price of chicken breasts falling 26 cents to $1.55 a pound. Whole fryers were 2 cents cheaper at 86 cents a pound, but eggs were a dime higher at $1.09 a dozen.
On the produce aisle, a big jump in lettuce prices resulted in an overall increase of 6 percent. Across the state, lettuce averaged $1.20 a head, up 21 cents, while tomatoes were 3 cents higher at $1.41 a pound. Red potatoes were slightly less expensive at 73 cents a pound, down 2 cents, and sweet potatoes were up a penny to 91 cents a pound. In the dairy case, milk was a nickel higher in September at $1.88 a half-gallon, and ice cream was up a dime to $2.96 a half-gallon.
Regional reports collected around the state showed the market basket averaged $36.88 in northwest Alabama, $39.70 in the central counties, $40.05 in the northeast corner of the state and $42.81 in south Alabama.