Deep freeze could heat up grocery prices

Jan. 11, 2014 @ 07:00 PM

One lingering effect of the freezing weather that struck here and across the country may show up in a place you might not anticipate — the aisles of your grocery store.

The cold front that plunged temperatures to record lows during the first part of last week could cause a spike in some supermarket prices in the coming weeks and months, such as with citrus or beef products.
An economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., said the cold wave shouldn’t cause widespread, dramatic increases in the prices of groceries or lead to shortages of some commodities. But economist Ricky Volpe told The High Point Enterprise that prices of some groceries in certain parts of the country could increase because of the impact of the cold wave on farmers and cattle ranchers.
“It’s too soon to put any numbers on anything,” Volpe told the Enterprise Friday. “It depends on the extent of the cold weather and how far it dips below average norms for a given point of a year. That said, my understanding is that we’re unlikely to see much of an impact on national-level prices. But could we see localized impacts for the citrus market in places like the southeastern U.S.? Certainly.”
Also, there could be a short-term increase in beef prices because of the effect of the cold wave on livestock herds, Volpe said.
“You would have higher costs associated with keeping animals warm, feeding them to make sure they maintain weight,” he said.
Any impact of the cold wave should affect three main areas — citrus products, beef and winter wheat, said Mike McCully, associate professor of economics at High Point University.
“You’re talking about some temporary increases in meat prices,” McCully said. “And obviously freezes are bad in areas with citrus. But the agricultural losses should be temporary.”
McCully said the cold wave may have one beneficial effect for agriculture — destroying pests that could attack plants and trees.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528