Food prices spiking after bitter winter weather
Late corn harvest, pig virus among factors

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

April 3, 2014

Polled Hereford and Black Angus cattle take their ease in a field along Highway 18 in the Town of Genesee Wednesday. Pork and beef prices are rising for a variety of reasons.     
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

WAUKESHA - Food costs have been rising across the country over the last few months, and that has begun to take effect on local grocery stores and customers.

The cost of pork, beef, milk and several other food items have spiked in the last month, and it appears there are several factors at play that have contributed to higher sticker prices.

Adam Campbell, an assistant manager at the Woodman’s in Waukesha, says his store has begun ordering less pork, as product prices have risen as much as 30 percent in the last few weeks alone.

The price of pork chops and ribs have each risen to $3.79 per pound at the store, while pork tenderloin has increased to $3.99 per pound.

“Weather has been huge on it,” Campbell said. “Trucks couldn’t move products because it was too cold. They have been weeks behind.”

Woodman’s is not alone either - Aldi and Sentry markets in the county both have similar prices for their pork.

The long and bitter winter has not only affected transport speeds, but has also allowed a deadly virus that has been killing off pigs to spread nationwide.

Porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED), which causes vomiting and diarrhea in pigs, has flourished in the cold temperatures. It is not a threat to humans, nor a food safety concern, but it has a mortality rate of between 80-to-100 percent among newborn piglets.

The price of lean pork in the futures market is now at record levels, sitting at $1.31 per pound, which is a 52 percent increase since the end of 2013. The cost of meats, fish and eggs led the biggest increase in U.S. food prices in nearly two and a half years in February, according to government data.

Brandon Scholz, the president and CEO of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, said the most significant upswing in prices in the state has been in the beef market.

Scholz is not sure what the direct reasons behind this are, but he believes that last fall’s corn harvest from Wisconsin farmers may have had something to do with it.

“Wisconsin was late to harvest with its corn,” he said. “Other states in the region were ahead of of us and I do not believe Wisconsin even finished its harvest.”

Scholz explained that a lack of corn could lead to an increase in animal feed prices, which would have a negative impact on herd sizes throughout the winter months. Smaller cattle herds results in less meat and fewer gallons of milk, which in turn leads to higher prices.

Customers have had to adapt to the changing food markets, and sometimes that means giving up a product that they simply cannot afford.

“Milk is two (gallons) for $7. I used to buy one for $1.39. Now I don’t buy any of it,” said Joe Gilbert, a retiree living in Waukesha. “That pension check does not go as far as it used to.”

Contributing: The Associated Press