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Thankgiving Dinner Costs Rise a Bit

November 20, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Despite the low prices that farmers got for their harvest, Thanksgiving dinner will cost slightly more to prepare this year. Blame the turkey.

A traditional holiday feast for 10 people will cost $33.83 this year, up 74 cents from last year, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The price of a 16-pound turkey is up 52 cents this year to $14.23, accounting for most of the increase.

The meal as calculated by the Farm Bureau includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie and coffee and milk.

The nation’s largest farmer organization conducted its survey using 113 shoppers in 28 states. Since the survey started in 1986, the cost of Thanksgiving dinner has risen $5.09.

The higher price of turkey this year is due in large part to Hurricane Floyd, which killed an estimated 800,000 turkeys in eastern North Carolina this fall, Farm Bureau economist Joe Miller said.

``Hurricane Floyd just wiped them out, and turkey supplies plummeted,″ Miller said. ``If not for that, turkey prices probably would have been lower.″

Other factors could be at work, however. As devastating as Floyd was to some farmers, North Carolina alone produces about 50 million turkeys a year. Production nationwide already was down about 4 percent before the hurricane.

The wholesale price of turkey actually has dropped a penny or two per pound since July, according to the Agriculture Department.

Turkey prices typically vary widely from supermarket to supermarket. Grocery stores often sell the birds for less than the wholesale cost as a marketing gimmick.

Stores ``use meats of all types to draw people into the stores. What’s paid in the stores isn’t all that closely related to what the farmer is being paid,″ said Gerald Havenstein, a poultry specialist at North Carolina State University.

The cranberry sauce will cost less this year, as will the stuffing and the rolls, according to the Farm Bureau survey. A 12-ounce package of cranberries costs $1.70, down 30 cents. The price of a 14-ounce package of stuffing mix is down 6 cents to $2.30.

The price of milk is up, however, as is the cost of the vegetables and dessert.

A gallon of milk is averaging $2.95 a gallon, up 32 cents from last year, according to the survey. A package of peas costs 8 cents more and a pound of sweet potatoes is priced 7 cents higher. A pound of celery and carrots for the relish plate will cost 6 cents more

As for the pumpkin pie, the prices of the whipping cream, pie shell and filling are up a combined 13 cents.

Overall food costs are rising about 2 percent this year, the smallest increase in seven years. They are expected to increase by the same amount in 2000 because of abundant meat supplies and relatively stable costs for processors and supermarkets, according to USDA.

But the depressed prices that farmers are getting for wheat and other grains have had little effect on what consumers are paying because the cost of those raw commodities account for a small fraction of the price of processed foods.

The average price that growers are getting for vegetables and melons also is down this year _ about 8 percent _ but that is not necessarily reflected in the grocery store, either, as the Farm Bureau survey found.

Farmers receive an estimated 21 cents of each dollar Americans spend on food, down from 32 cents a year ago.