The severe drought in America's central states is no justification for grocery stores and supermarket chains to raise the prices of bread, cereal and other foods, Utah Agriculture Commissioner Cap Ferry said Wednesday.
He said prices of meat should be down and should drop further if retailers follow up the recent drop in prices.Ferry joined national farm leaders and agricultural experts in urging retail stores to use common sense and fairness in their pricing.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Peter C. Myers, who was in Utah June 22 to visit Utah State University in Logan, said, "If wholesalers and retailers increase the price of food, it will be unjustified."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Dean Kleckner, who visited Utah June 27 to visit a Lehi nursery and mushroom farm using advanced farm technology, said, "There will be plenty of food to eat in America, and the supermarket price of beef should be way down."
All three men said most of the fear of food and grain shortages is psychological rather than real.
If prices don't drop it will be simply because grocery stores and supermarket chains want to make a windfall, farm experts say.
Agriculture experts say most of the rise in grain prices that has taken place already is speculative and based on expectations that there will be a shortage of grain later this year because of the drought.
Ferry said most of this year's corn won't be harvested until October or November, and timely rains in the near future could still save much of the nation's crop.
"Small grains are just now starting to be harvested in the warmer states, but we won't know the final harvest figures until months from now."
He said there are vast surpluses of grain in government storage bins and warehouses across the United States, and when the price of grain gets to a certain target or trigger level, these surpluses will be released for sale on the open market.
"This will keep prices from skyrocketing," Ferry said.
He said alfalfa hay is still selling for only $60 to $70 a ton in Utah. Barley has gone up about $1.25 per 100 pounds, to $5.50 a hundredweight, and high-protein milling wheat, from which bread is made, has gone up about 30 percent in the past few weeks, from about $3 a bushel to $4.
"There has been a lot of talk about shortages, but it is mostly talk. Not all of the country has been hit by drought. Utah is pretty well off, actually, and some areas of the state have had above-average rainfall.
"Many major food-producing areas in the nation have not been hit by the drought.
"There should be no shortages of food. People should not panic nor feel they have to go to grocery stores and buy large amounts of any food.
"If prices of cereal and bread, for instance, go up, the price hikes will be unjustified. There is so little corn, barley or oats in cereal that the price of these commodities would have to double or triple for the cost of a box of cereal or a loaf of bread to go up 5 cents."
In addition, he said, most cereal manufacturers have large storages of grain and most contract for grain, so they set the price long ago at which they will buy commodities from farmers.
"Meat prices in supermarkets should be way down now. There has been a lot of talk about turkey growers having difficulty getting grain for their birds, but, across the nation, turkey growers have overproduced. There is a big surplus of turkeys. Turkey growers had several good years and have just grown too many birds the past two years.
"Beef is being sold at much lower prices at slaughterhouses now. Beef should be down in the markets, especially ground beef. If the retailers follow up their huge savings on the cost of buying beef, consumers should see a reduction in the price of steaks and roasts.
"Lamb and pork prices are also down. Consumers should see a drop in the prices of these foods in the supermarkets."