ALABAMA FAMILIES DIGGING A LITTLE DEEPER FOR SPUDS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- As Alabama families face higher food prices stemming from soaring fuel costs, supply shortages have forced shoppers to dig a little deeper for one traditionally low-cost staple - potatoes. According to the Alabama Farmers Federation's monthly food price survey, red potatoes were up 14 cents a pound this month, which contributed to an overall increase of 33 cents in the average cost of 20 basic market basket items. Surveys collected by volunteer shoppers around the state Aug. 1-10 showed the market basket averaged $52.86, up six-tenths of 1 percent from July.
Experts blame record-high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest during August of last year for the rise in potato prices. August is the final growing month for Western spuds, and during that month, a potato can gain as much as 50 percent of its weight. High temperatures stunted growth and led to low supplies, which are just now being felt by consumers. Although harvest will begin shortly for this year's crop, prices could remain high because of a 7-9 percent reduction in planted acres this year. At Alabama supermarkets, red potatoes averaged 90 cents a pound this month, compared to 76 cents in July.
Meanwhile, tomato prices fell 9 cents in August to $1.60 a pound, and lettuce and sweet potatoes were up 2 cents each to $1.42 a head, and 92 cents a pound, respectively.
At the meat counter, prices were mixed with shoppers enjoying savings on Boston butts, T-bone steaks and whole fryers. Boston butts averaged $1.75 a pound, down 6 cents, while pork chops were up 6 cents to $3.47 a pound. Bacon also was 8 cents higher at $3.64 a pound. T-bone steaks were down 14 cents to $8.54 a pound, but ground beef jumped 23 cents to $2.42 a pound. Chuck roasts also were up 6 cents to $3.43 a pound. Whole fryers were down a nickel to $1.20 a pound, while chicken breasts averaged $2.21 a pound, an increase of 19 cents. Eggs took a sharp drop after posting big gains in July to settle at $1.51 a dozen, down 28 cents.
In the dairy case, summer specials at state supermarkets contributed to lower ice cream prices, which averaged $4.11 a half-gallon, down 11 cents. A half-gallon of milk was basically unchanged at $3.20, up 2 cents, and cottage cheese was up 8 cents to $2.68 a pound. Butter also was a dime more expensive at $3.61 a pound.
Regional reports collected around the state showed the market basket averaged $51.30 in northeast Alabama, $51.51 in the northwest corner of the state, $53.94 in the central counties and $55.15 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. According to Department of Agriculture statistics, it takes an average American family about 36 days to earn enough money to pay for their food for an entire year. It takes 77 days to earn enough to pay federal taxes and 52 days to pay for medical care.