USFRA's View on Food Choices & Prices
USFRA believes consumers have the right to make food choices that best fit their personal needs and household budgets. In particular, USFRA supports healthy choices for everyone no matter their socioeconomic status. For agriculture to provide healthy choices for all Americans as well as people around the world, we need all types of farms and ranches – big and small, organic and conventional, rural and urban. Only when farmers and ranchers work together, sharing best practices and providing a range of choices, can we meet the desires of the marketplace as well as the real needs of a growing population.
Because America’s farmers and ranchers choose a variety of management styles and methods for growing and raising food, U.S. consumers have a wide array of options. In the past decade, these options have greatly increased. In the average supermarket, consumers choose from more than 38,000 different products. Fresh produce and meat choices have grown in recent years, providing consumers more options than ever before. According to a profile of how Americans eat, in 2000, consumers ate 20 percent more fruit and vegetables than Americans in the 1970s.
Additionally, a W.K. Kellogg study showed fresh produce consumption has increased in just the last five years.
Farmers’ markets now provide one percent of Americans’ produce, helping people connect locally with their food. There are approximately 7,800 farmers markets around the country – and the number is growing. Grocery stores now provide U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic along with conventionally-grown produce, with varying prices to appeal to all consumers. The United States has the largest market for organic goods, surpassing Europe in 2010. Additionally, new food options like ready-to-eat roasts and new deli counter offerings have grown, adding even more consumer choices.
Still, food choices can be challenging for some Americans – particularly those who live in “food deserts.” Food deserts exist in two areas: mainly, inner cities where healthy food choices may not be available and extremely rural areas where populations are low and grocery stores with abundant choices are rare. Communities work with local farmers and ranchers to help resolve some of these challenges and the increase of urban/community gardens have also provided relief for many of these food desert areas.
Many farmer and rancher organizations strive to help people who may not be able to afford food or may not have access. Combating hunger is a major cause recognized and addressed by the agriculture community. One good example of how farmers work to provide food where it’s needed most is the “Farm Share” program. Farm Share is a large-scale food bank and charitable packinghouse working to end hunger. The group donates fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida’s farmers and puts them into the hands of the millions of low-income families in need of nutritious food.
Farmers and ranchers around the country work with their local food banks to donate beef, food, money and volunteer time. The “Beef Counts” program in Idaho and Washington has brought together the beef industry to help feed the local hungry. Likewise, ranchers in Missouri collected more than 15,000 pounds of food to benefit local families. United Egg Producers coordinates the donation and delivery of 12 million eggs annual to local food banks each Easter through Feeding America. Other campaigns have done the same. http://www.explorebeef.org/CMDocs/ExploreBeef/FactSheet_FarmersFightingHunger.pdf
County Farm Bureaus help with food drives, field gleaning, assist local food shelves with donations and serve on boards. Several County Farm Bureau leaders raise one to two acres of sweet corn for their local food pantries.
U.S. consumers spend a lower percentage of household income on food than consumers in any other country. In 2010, 6.8 percent of final purchases were spent on food.
Because prices are so low, Americans can choose from a wide range of products and in turn, spend the remainder of their disposable income on other things, thus supporting economic growth in other areas.
Looking back over the past 30 years, the rate of inflation in general, and rate of inflation for food specifically, has fallen. The average annual increase for food-at-home prices between 1990 and 2011 was 2.8 percent.
While food price increases have historically been lower than the average rate of inflation at 3 percent, many consumers felt the surge in 2008 with an increase of 6.4 percent over 2007 prices. Consumers saw another increase in 2011 with a 4.8 percent increase.
These increases left many consumers concerned. Price increases have been driven in large part by the oil market and spikes in fuel prices. These increases made it more expensive for farmers to grow and raise food, transport it and market it. All industries, including food, farming and trucking felt the impact of increased fuel prices.
No matter the geographical location, the 2012 U.S. growing season is a challenging one. According to Bloomberg News (Aug. 1, 2012), more than half the counties in the U.S. have been designated as drought-stressed. Many consumers are wondering the impact they’ll see at the store. According to the USDA, food prices may increase as much as 4.5 percent (July 25, 2012). Likewise, many farmers are wondering how they may survive the drought and, if they do, how this will impact their 2013 resources and management plans after a challenging year.
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