Holiday Feast

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Nov. 29, 1996

Holiday Dinner to Keep Pace With Inflation

By Robin Droegemueller
UW-RF News Bureau

Festive holiday decorations are brightening city streets and every store window. Shopping malls are cluttered with busy people and holiday merchandise. Seasonal music is abundant.

Everyone is in the Holiday spirit.

It is the season of giving.

And fortunately, it appears that people will be giving only a little bit more this year for a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, set near a Christmas tree and floral decorations.

The overall cost of your Christmas feast will be slightly higher this year compared to last, according to data collected from faculty at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences.

The main course of turkey, beef or pork will be higher than inflation, but most of the fixings will keep pace with inflation. The overall price of food this year is up 4 percent from one year ago, about 1 percent higher then the general inflation rate.

Professor Bonnie Walters of the UW-RF animal and food science department reports that the prices of both chicken and turkey are up for several reasons. Foremost is because of an increase in feed costs. A corn shortage this year and the resulting higher price did not allow farmers to produce many extra birds to meet consumer demands.

However, chickens and turkeys only take seven weeks to raise, so poultry prices can drop fairly quickly compared to beef prices, since raising cattle requires a longer-term commitment. Recently, feed prices have begun to slide, leading to an expansion in poultry production. But those birds won't reach consumers before Christmas, Walters said.

The feed prices increases will also affect the retail prices for beef and pork, according to Professor Dean Henderson, chair of the UW-RF animal and food science department.

During September, production of red meat was down eight percent from last year, according to a recent edition of "Wisconsin Farm Reporter," released Nov. 4 by the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service.

Beef cattle have been sold at a lighter weight recently, as well, which also reflects the higher price of corn. The effects of a recent drop in feed prices won't be reflected in lower retail prices for beef until after the New Year.

Meanwhile, the price of beef has gone up at least 8 cents per pound since September and hog prices also increased due to strong exports, economic growth, increased food service demand, and relatively low pork stocks, states the "Wisconsin Farm Reporter."

Wisconsin is the No. 1 state in cheese production, producing an amazing 30 percent of the nation's cheese, as well as being at the top in milk and butter production. Although Wisconsin has more dairy cows than any other state, quantity will not translate into lower consumer prices this Christmas.

The prices of dairy products have seen the largest increase of Wisconsin's Christmast dinner staples: 11 percent compared to this time last year.

The rise in prices is being driven by brisk domestic and export demand, problems with feed quality, a rise in transportation costs, and high feed prices, according to Renee May, UW-RF animal and food science department dairy plant manager. In addition, the number of milk cows across the nation has dropped, she says.

That means milk prices will continue to increase for the rest of the year, May says.

Wisconsin also is the nation's No. 1 producer of cranberries, contributing nearly 42 of the nation's supply. It's also the nation's leader in beets for canning, cabbage for kraut, snap beans, and corn for silage. It ranks near the top in many other vegetable crops: sweet corn for processing (second), green peas (second), potatoes (third), carrots (third), cucumbers for pickles (fourth), and tart cherries (fifth).

Except for corn and sweet potatoes, the price consumers pay for their Christmas feast vegetables will keep pace with inflation this year.

Corn has risen dramatically in price, from $2.62 a bushel last year to around $4.16 a bushel. Although corn prices dropped sharply from September to mid-October this year, prices still remain significantly higher than last year's.

The price of potatoes has actually decreased significantly compared to last year at this time: about a 1.5 cent drop per pound. However, the price of sweet potatoes has increased by nearly 5 cents per pound, and now stands at an average of 66 cents per pound in the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin cranberry growers are reporting a very good crop this year, according to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. However, the price of a 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries is up 11 cents compared to last year.

Naturally, no Christmas celebration is complete without a tree, and nearly one-third of American families purchase live trees.

Fortunately, according to Professor Mike Kaltenberg of the UW-RF plant and earth science department, Christmas trees are in plentiful supply this year and prices will remain consistent with 1995.

Prices range anywhere from $3.10 to $5.65 per foot, depending on the quality of the tree and, of course, where it is purchased. Americans typically choose from two major species of Christmas trees: scotch pine or balsam fir. These two species make up 30 of the pine trees grown in Wisconsin. Other varieties include Frazer white pine and spruce.

Wisconsin is ranked third in the nation in evergreen production, producing three million trees per year for commercial use. About 30 percent of them are displayed in Badger State living rooms.

Pointsettias are another popular Christmas decoration and gift. According to the annual "Floriculture Crops" report published in April, flowering potted plants will see a 2 percent wholesale price increase.

Pointsettias, the largest single contributor in this category, will increase 1 percent compared to the previous year. For consumers, that translates into about 7 cents more for pots larger than five inches. The most common price range for poinsettias is $20 to $25 for a 7-8 inch pot.

Even so, some suppliers are saying they'll be keeping the Holiday spirit in mind as they do some giving of their own: they report that their prices to consumers will remain the same as last year.

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