McDONOUGH — There are fire sales on beef in the West. Grain is at a premium in the Midwest. And, Georgia’s robust poultry industry is threatened because of depleted corn crops. Combined, agriculture officials say, food prices are expected to eventually go up nationwide.
For now, though, residents like Lorraine Wimberly of Stockbridge are concerned about the availability of food. She expressed her worries Wednesday, as she bought a box of donuts from Ingles Supermarket to deliver to her grandchildren who just started a new school year.
“I am very concerned, because of the drought,” said Wimberly, also a newly retired nurse and educator. “They can’t grow corn to feed our chickens, our cattle, or our hogs.”
Constance Wallace, 76, of Stockbridge, is concerned about the prices.
The senior is a frequent shopper at COSTCO in Morrow, where she gets where she said her prescriptions, gas, fresh fish, and spring water.
"Cost-saving food stores would help save a lot more money than regular stores, because costs are going up on just about all of our staple foods.”
McDonough resident Kenny Armer is general manager at COSTCO in Morrow. He said the store is in transition, and plans to increase its supply of food items by 70 percent. The store rebranding is expected to be completed at new grand opening in October.
“We’re not getting ready to close, but we’re ramping up because of our expanded food offerings,” Armer said. “Our buyers are frugal and we try our best to hold down prices. The now-retired president of COSTCO, Jim Sinegal, says that when times get tough, good companies gain market share.
While increases in food prices loom, officials say the Southern Crescent area, and the rest of Georgia, have narrowly escaped the effects of extreme drought that has reached from the West to the High Plains, and throughout the South into the Midwest.
Nearly 80 percent of Georgia is enveloped by conditions that are at least abnormally dry, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor. The most recent drought report revealed more than 24 percent of the state — an area stretching from southwestern Georgia up to northeastern Georgia, as well as in a west central pocket of the state — is experiencing exceptional drought conditions. It is the highest measure of drought reported by the center.
Officials expect that while Georgia has seen its share of afternoon showers lately, the drought may soon affect area homes, supermarkets, restaurants, and schools.
“Right now, the drought is causing a decrease in the corn crop. Anything that is associated with corn can go up,” said Judith Hogg, director of school nutrition for Henry County Schools.
“The news says that cattle farmers are selling off their herds because of the drought and beef prices may drop,” she continued. “However, in the following years, beef prices will rise because there will be a shortage of beef. It will take several years for the herds to recover.”
Hogg said she does not anticipate the school district’s food costs will be affected this year.
“We currently bid our grocery items twice a year so our prices are guaranteed through December 2012,” she said. “Next year will be the one to watch.”
Hogg noted the canned and frozen vegetables being used in her department this year are from last year’s crops, and are not affected by present price hikes.
“Our fresh produce is always subject to the current market conditions,” said Hogg. “We are usually able to adjust our menus around those prices as far as fresh produce is concerned.”
The school nutrition official added that chicken prices will likely be affected by the drought because of the decrease in the corn crop.
Mary Kathryn Yearta, public affairs director with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, confirmed poultry prices could begin rising in the fall by as much as 3 percent. She said poultry is the state’s top food, accounting for 38 percent of Georgia’s Farmers Gate Value.
“We’ve been pretty lucky in Georgia so far,” said Yearta. “Our crops are in much better shape than the crops are in the West. “What’s going to affect the food price is the corn supply in the West.”
Grains products have grown increasingly scarce in the western half of the U.S., according to Kent Wolfe, director of the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia.
Wolfe has seen other parts of the country suffer from drought as evidenced, he explained, by dried and wilted crops blown down at the smallest winds in the Midwest.
He said farmers in the West have been “liquidating herds” and selling off their beef/cattle because of the drought’s effects. He said there has been little to no grass and less corn for cattle herds to feed on this year.
“In Georgia, we’re kind of better off,” said Wolfe. “But it’s dependent on the weather.”