Drought drives food prices up

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PITTSBURGH - The drought of 2012 is officially the worst in half a century.  While it is hurting farmers now, Target 11 Consumer Investigator Robin Taylor found out, it will hit the rest of us very soon.

Right now, we're seeing normal seasonal fluctuations in prices.  Come Thanksgiving though, we're going to see higher prices on everything from cereal to beef, pork and even that Thanksgiving turkey.

The drought has withered corn crops and left ranchers scrambling to feed their herds, and that's going to have a ripple effect at the cash register, since corn is in cereal and chips and most processed foods.

"I don't know what they can do.  We don't control the weather unfortunately," said Rose Pallotta, a grocery shopper in the North Hills.

Meat and milk products may be hit the hardest.

Beef, dairy, poultry, eggs and pork will increase anywhere from 3 ½ to 5 percent next year, according to the Department of Agriculture.

"I think you'll see prices going up.  Right now, it seems like it will be significant," said Sam Guido, the Kuhn’s store manager on McKnight Road.

He predicts gradual price increases in just about every aisle.

For a family of four, the price hikes will add an estimated $615 to their annual grocery bill in 2013.

Experts predict shoppers will use more coupons and switch to cheaper items to try to beat the rising cost of feeding a family.

"Internet coupons, anything you can find, any sales you can find.  It's hard now for families," said Christine Price, a grocery shopper from Shaler.

If there's a silver lining, meat prices could take a dip before rising in October.  If you have a freezer, now could be the time to stock up.

"It fluctuates from week to week, month to month," said Chris Nardozzi, the Kuhn’s meat manager.

Ranchers, who can't afford to feed their herds, are going to be sending them to market, bringing prices down temporarily. 

Wheat products are also going up, but it's hard to stock up on bread and crackers because those items go stale.

As far as local produce goes, it's hitting store shelves now, and I'm told the prices are on par with last year.