I recently caught a television news report that implied that rising food costs were prompting rising inflation.
The story highlighted a number of food staples that have, indeed, experienced retail price increases during the past year. The story appeared to be reasonably factual, but failed to tell the whole story. What about the food items that have dropped in price?
As an agricultural producer, I have always been of the mindset that it is inflation that causes higher food prices. Inflation runs up the cost of production inputs for food commodities, as well as the cost of processing, packaging and transporting those items to the point of retail sales. Therefore, it is inflation that causes food prices to increase and not higher food costs that cause accelerated inflation.
Seeing this higher retail food price story just before the Thanksgiving holiday made me reflect on supermarket costs for the ingredients needed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Since the folks with the Farm Bureau have been surveying retail grocery store prices of 10 basic items used in this traditional holiday meal for more than two decades now, I decided to review their survey results for Thanksgiving 2010.
Yes, the costs of these food items have experienced an increase, but it amounted to only 1.3 percent over last year for the same 10 items on the list. The total cost for this year's food basket was $43.47. Items in this basket include frozen, self-basting, young tom turkey, fresh sweet potatoes, jelled cranberry sauce, one pound of herb seasoned stuffing mix, one pound of frozen green beans, a pack of brown and serve rolls and the filling and shell for a pumpkin pie.
These items were actually higher back in November 2008, at $44.61. That means this year's meal items actually had a price deflation from two years ago that resulted in a savings of $1.14.
It seems that both the American Farm Bureau Federation and Texas Farm Bureau conduct similar grocery price watch surveys this time each year. But the items on the shopping list vary somewhat when it comes to the dessert. TFB's list has shelled pecan halves for a pecan pie instead of pumpkin pie ingredients on the AFB's list.
I believe most Texans would not take issue with that menu item change, even if it came with a somewhat higher price tag. This year Texans are paying a higher-than-normal premium for most pecan products because of increased nut demand in foreign markets, especially China. TheTFB's Texas Thanksgiving food basket totaled $46.52, an increase of $3.05 over the AFB's 10 menu items.
These food basket items should be able to feed 10 family members. When you calculate this on a per-plate basis, it shows us what a bargain our food is in the United States. Even if you upgrade the dessert to a slice of pecan pie, the base cost for major food items in the unprepared meal averages $4.65 per plate. What a bargain.
My data search also disclosed quarterly grocery price watch results of 16 survey items reported on by 20 volunteer shoppers statewide throughout the year.
The trend for 2010 has been for lower prices for fresh vegetables and dried beans, while a one-pound block of cheddar cheese and a one-pound bag of rice both increased by over 20 percent during 2010.
In the meat counter, the continued demand for lean ground beef has moved the per-pound price for that item up by 10.69 percent for the year and sliced turkey breast was up by 6.52 percent.
Protein sources experiencing only modest gains in the retail counter this year include skinless chicken breast that was up by 2.21 percent, Porterhouse steak is up by only 2.29 percent and boneless pork chops up by 2.53 percent.
According to the Texas Farm Bureau's 2010 Grocery Price Watch Survey, the annual change for the 16 staple items on their shopping list has increased by 3.37 percent. So there is data to support what was announced on the news clip.
But grocery cost increases are not likely greater than the rate of increase for other consumer goods and services that contribute to the annual cost of living increases we are experiencing in the U.S. during 2010.
Undoubtedly, everyone in this country should be thankful for the efforts of the American farmers and ranchers and the great job that they continue to do in providing us the most affordable supply of safe, high quality food items in the world.
These producers are truly deserving of a show of appreciation from the non-food producing segment of our population.
And what better way to show appreciation than to support a production safety net for our US agricultural producers? We wouldn't want to count on foreign countries to provide our food. After all, it sure hasn't worked out well in the fuel industry.
Harvey Buehring is the Extension Agent - Emeritus for Nueces County.