JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Severe drought conditions sweltering much of the country will soon take its toll on consumers' wallets, economic experts say.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said 88 percent of corn crops were in drought condition, meaning corn production will be extremely low this year, creating a higher demand and higher prices for everyday goods like meat and gasoline.
"I'm definitely not going to Publix. The produce prices are ridiculously high everywhere," shopper Kaitlyn Ribee said. "Even at Costco you pay $6 for a watermelon."
Ribee shops at the Jacksonville Farmers Market, looking for ways to save on food.
Her grandparents grow corn and soy beans on farms in Iowa, and she said their crop production is lower than ever this year.
"It's supposed to be as high as an elephant's eye by Fourth of July, but this year, not so much," Ribee said.
Corn and other crops are withering and dying in the heat in the Midwest, meaning gas and food prices are expected to shoot up for the whole country.
"Even the Mississippi River's drying up," said Gary Stake, owner of Tillman's Meat Market. "They can't ship grain down the river, which they do on barges, which is much cheaper than by truck. And if they have to go by truck, the fuel will go up considerably with the corn harvest being so low."
The Department of Agriculture says meat prices will rise significantly, and people will likely pay up to 4.5 percent more for beef and veal.
"We will see it more in meat because it weighs more," Stake said. "You don't very often eat a pound of beans, but you do very often eat a pound of meat."
Farmers use corn to enhance the taste of meat before it makes it to the dinner table. That's why the price of corn is even affecting the price of meat.
A $12 steak could soon cost at least $14.
At Tillman's, owners Gary and Candi Stake have done all they could to not raise prices, but they said they had to increase costs about 10 percent this week.
"We've been biting the bullet, so to speak, and we couldn't bite any more bullets or we were going to bite the bullet," Gary said.
It's a vicious cycle. As the costs increase, it affects what shoppers pay.
"You just have to adjust," on shopper said. "The economy's going up, and the pay is going down. We just have to do the best we can to get through the hard times, but most of all, as my mother would always say, 'Put something away for a rainy day.'"
The Department of Agriculture declared more than 1,300 counties across 31 states as disaster areas this year. As a result, officials say food prices could go up 3 to 4 percent next year.
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