Weather causing rise in Indiana food prices, heating bills

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The calendar may have turned to spring, but Hoosiers are feeling the effects of a long winter where it hurts the most: their wallets.

Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt told Fox 59 News that food prices have risen by 3 percent in the past year, compared to a general inflation rate around 2 percent.

“Food prices have been highly affected by weather over the past several years.  We’ve had really three short crops in a row,” Hurt said, referring to the effects of drought throughout Indiana and the Midwest.

“Our biggest threat is that we have another short crop in the United States that will continue to keep feed prices high.  It’ll continue to push prices of our food up, something in the range of 3.5 percent a year.  And food is so important to every consumer.  It’s a have-to.  It’s a must in our budgets and that means something else, if food prices are high, has to give.”

Hurt said the more normal winter could help restore moisture levels and ensure a better farming season in 2013, which would then help stabilize prices at the grocery store.

However, he said “it does look wet as we go into the springtime [and] that could mean some delays of planting.”

Typically, consumers can quickly see wheat, oat and corn products rise in price, Hurt said, while fats and oils derived from soybean crop are not far behind.  A bad crop this year could see a rise in feed prices, which Hurt said would lower the cost of animal products, such as meat and milk, in the short-term as farmers liquidate their supply.  If so, though, the cost of those animal products would rise dramatically in 2014, he said.

Mother Nature’s cold winter is also impacting Hoosiers’ home heating bills.

Vectren recently warned its customers about their April bills, which reflect March use, in order to better prepare them for what’s to come.  The home heating company said that March was 25 percent colder than normal and 200 percent colder than March 2012, leading to increased natural gas use to stay warm.

“This heating season certainly hung on longer than expected, especially compared to last winter’s very mild temperatures, and as such, furnaces were still running all the way through March,” Brad Ellsworth, president of Vectren Energy Delivery of Indiana – North, said in a news release.  “While continued lower natural gas costs have made bills more manageable, the April bill will still be higher than expected because the cold weather drove an increase in usage.”

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