SAVINGS ON PORK, BEEF BRING RELIEF TO GROCERY BILLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Lower prices for pork and beef this month brought relief to family food budgets as the average cost of 20 basic market basket items fell 1.5 percent. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, the market basket averaged $51.14 the first week of April, down 76 cents from a month ago.
An increase in global supplies of pork are credited for the decrease in retail prices, but agricultural economists say cheaper hogs and skyrocketing feed costs are putting a pinch on farmers' pocketbooks. This year may "replace 1998 as the worst financial year for pork producers in modern history," said Dr. Chris Hurt, a Purdue University Extension marketing specialist. Alabama shoppers benefited from the decrease, however, as pork chops averaged $3.17 a pound, down 20 cents, and bacon averaged $3.48 a pound, down 17 cents. Boston butts were slightly less expensive at $1.68 a pound, down 2 cents. Beef prices also declined with T-bone steaks averaging $8.01 a pound and ground beef ringing in at $2.14 a pound, both down 19 cents. Chuck roasts were 8 cents cheaper at $3.12 a pound. Poultry prices, meanwhile, were up with whole fryers averaging $1.15 a pound, up 4 cents, and chicken breasts averaging $2.34 a pound, up 6 cents. Eggs were a penny more expensive at $2.10 a dozen.
Increased Western production of spring vegetables helped push produce prices lower in April with tomatoes selling for $1.93 a pound, down 12 cents. Lettuce was down 6 cents to $1.31 a head, and sweet potatoes were a penny cheaper at 88 cents a pound. Red potatoes, however, were up 9 cents to 81 cents a pound.
In the dairy case, prices were mixed with a half-gallon of milk averaging $3.15, up 6 cents, while a half-gallon of brand-name ice cream fell 16 cents to $4.10. Cottage cheese was up 8 cents to $2.64 a pound, and butter was up a dime to $3.39 a pound.
For the year, Alabama food prices are up about 5 percent when compared to April 2007. Jim Sartwelle, an American Farm Bureau Federation economist, says higher energy costs in the transportation and processing sectors are the main culprits.
"When you look at the global run-up in energy prices, it costs considerably more for hauling, transporting, processing and packaging items than it ever has in the past," he said. "We're seeing a lot of that reflected on the grocery store shelves right now."
Ironically, as food prices go up, the portion of every food dollar that America's farm and ranch families receive has dropped over time.
"In the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures on aveage," Sartwelle said. "That figure has decreased steadily over time and is now just 22 percent, according to USDA statistics."
Regional market basket reports collected by volunteer shoppers across the state showed April food prices averaged $49.86 in northwest Alabama, $50.59 in the northeast corner of the state, $50.88 in the central counties and $54.02 in south Alabama.
Alabama Farmers Federation, a member of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is the state's largest farm organization. Its volunteer members conduct the informal monthly market basket survey as a tool to reflect retail food price trends.