Nationwide drought could affect local food prices

The federal government has now determined that 20 percent of the nation is now in the severest stages of drought. This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture warned consumers to brace themselves for a 3 to 4 percent increase in food prices in 2013 as a result of the drought.

In Central New York, the dry weather hasn't been as bad as in other parts of the country, but local farmers are feeling the effects. At the Regional Market in Syracuse, consumers have the opportunity to buy local produce directly from local farmers who are always willing to talk about how the weather affects the quality and price of food.

Baldwinsville farmer, Linda Hahn says she hasn't yet passed along the higher prices, but it's costing her more to grow vegetables during the recent spate of hot, dry weather. "It's costing more to grow just because of the hours of irrigation and the fuel for the pumps... and the produce doesn't all look as it normally does just because it's been under stress." Hahn says.

Down the aisle from the Hahn Farms stand, Matt Dodge sells baked goods and desserts. He's not a farmer, but Dodge, as the owner of Sweeties Desserts in Lafayette depends on farmers to supply his business with locally grown fruit. Dodge says he and other consumers are going to be hit by a double whammy this year when it comes to local fruit. He says not only will prices go up because of the recent hot dry weather, but also consumers will soon feel the effects of a frost earlier this year. "Very shortly, it's going to be affecting me due to the frost in the spring. Cherries getting froze out, peaches got froze out and a lot of the apples got froze." he explains, "But the drought is also affecting the apples. So, very shortly, all that produce is going to be hard to find and will be affecting our product trying to locate the fruit."

Prices for meat and dairy products are expected to be especially hard hit. Many farmers, especially in the midwest are taking their livestock to slaughter because the drought has affected the price of feed. Experts say that will initially flood the market with meat causing consumer prices to drop, but eventually meat prices will climb as supplies go down next year.

June Wood owns the Longhorn Ranch in Bernhards Bay in Oswego County. Because she's an organic farmer with grass fed cattle, Wood says she can get through hot dry weather better than many other farmers. Because of what's happening elsewhere, she expects consumers will soon see a drop in meat prices, followed by higher prices that could last three years. "I'm sure you'll see a lot in the slaughter house. There will be a flood and prices will drop and of course there will be a shortage because it takes two years to raise a calf and then impregnate it. So you're looking at 3 years turnaround." Wood told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

So what's a consumer to do? Wood says you should get to know your local farmers. She says,"You want to know where your food comes from and to understand why the prices do what they do. Find out how the farmer operates his business and what he's affected by and the appreciation of your food will be much better."