Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Heatwave, Drought to Have Little Effect on Food Prices / Says Ag Department Economist

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Heatwave, Drought to Have Little Effect on Food Prices / Says Ag Department Economist

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) - The heat wave and drought that are gripping the Southeast this summer will have little effect on food prices this year, says an Agriculture Department economist.

Ralph Parlett of the department's Economic Research Service said he expects retail food prices to average 2 percent to 3 percent higher than last year, which would be the case even if there had notbeen a drought.

Not even the prices of poultry, hit hard this summer, are expected to gain more than 3 percent from last year.

""Poultry prices are going to be stronger than we thought, probably,'' Parlett said. ""Some of it has to do with the drought, but demand for poultry is really high right now, particularly with porksupplies down.''

The Southeast produces about 40 percent of the nation's broilers, or young chickens used for cooking. There have been higher-than-usual death losses among them because of high temperatures this summer.

""Most of the problem is not from death losses,'' Parlett said. ""They're not gaining weight. With the hot weather, you can't force (the birds) to eat, so you get a 3 1/2-pound bird instead of a 4-pound bird, so that cuts production.''

But there have been serious death losses to poultry flocks, he said. And there has been a loss of fertility among breeder flocks, which reduces the hatch of new chicks.

From southern Pennsylvania to northern Florida, arid weather and relentlessly hot temperatures have joined forces to cause $2.3 billion in farm losses.

Parlett, one of the Agriculture Department's leading experts on food costs and prices, said he has been besieged by questioners who think that all the poultry in the Southeast has died, leaving nothing for the rest of the year. …

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