Midwest drought to force Ga. grocery prices up

6:59 AM, Jul 19, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- It's now the worst drought to hit the nation's farmers in a quarter-century.

That's how the U.S. Agriculture Secretary describes it, and he says he is praying for rain for the crops across much of the country, especially the Midwest.

More than three-fourths of the nation's corn and soybeans are withering in the drought.

And regardless of Georgia's rains, Georgians are about to feel the impact of the far-away drought.

"Our hearts go out to the farm families in the Midwest that are having the biggest problems right now," said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black at the State Capitol on Wednesday.  "If this drought persists, it will be reflected on the grocery shelf."

Commissioner Black told 11Alive's Jon Shirek that Georgia grocery shoppers and farmers will not be able escape the effects of the severe drought hitting farmers in the Midwest, even though Georgia's own drought is not severe enough to hurt Georgia crops and livestock, which are okay.

A big reason, Black said, is that the state's giant poultry industry is beginning to see the price of poultry feed skyrocket. The drought in the hardest-hit areas of the country is causing shortages of corn and soybeans, which are the ingredients of the feed.

The same goes for cattle feed.

"When we see higher feed grain prices of soybean and corn, those are critical elements and components of the poultry diet, and we are concerned about that," Black said. "Certainly elevated grain prices will result in elevated costs for our protein, our chicken and beef that we enjoy here in Georgia ... Anything that's fed to a protein animal, which would be beef, dairy including milk, and certainly poultry, we'd be very concerned about. Our feed grains certainly go into our cereals, our breakfast cereals that I think could have some potential impact."

In fact, corn and soybean are so basic to so much of our diet, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that the shortages from the Midwest drought will force grocery prices overall to rise, everywhere, beginning later this year.

But the price increase will not happen right now -- so, he said, watch out for price gougers.

"And if, in fact, people are beginning to see food price increases now, it is not in any way shape or form related to the drought," Vilsack said in Washington on Wednesday.  "And we should be very careful to keep an eye on that to make sure that people do not take advantage of a very difficult and painful situation."

Commissioner Black said Georgia farmers who planted corn and soybean this year are producing good crops and should be able to make good money because of the high demand.

NBC News contributed to this report.

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