In this March 17, 2014 file photo, a newborn calf tries to stand on the O’Connor Ranch near Philip, S.D. Ranchers like Chuck O’Connor, who lost
In this March 17, 2014 file photo, a newborn calf tries to stand on the O'Connor Ranch near Philip, S.D. Ranchers like Chuck O'Connor, who lost cattle in last fall's blizzard, may be eligible to apply for relief through a USDA program that just began April 15.

Holly Ryan is used to seeing grocery prices go up and down.

"But they haven't been down in a long time," the 41-year-old York Township resident said.

Last Monday, she paid $5.09 for a gallon of Swiss Premium milk at Target.

"There were cheaper brands, but this is what I always get. I can't believe it's more than $5 now," Ryan said.

Food prices are increasing across the country, thanks to droughts, higher feed costs and viruses that are thinning pig herds and orange crops.

Statistics released recently by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed food costs increased 0.4 percent in March — the third consecutive month an increase was tracked by the Consumer Price Index.

In this March 17 photo, a cow walks with her newborn calf on Chuck O’Connor’s Ranch near Philip, S.D. The highest beef prices in decades have
In this March 17 photo, a cow walks with her newborn calf on Chuck O'Connor's Ranch near Philip, S.D. The highest beef prices in decades have some consumers spending extra time in meat market aisles as they search for cuts that won't break their budgets. Prices likely will stay high for a couple of years as cattle producers like O'Connor start to rebuild their herds amid big questions about whether cattle-producing states will get enough rain to replenish pastures. (AP Photo/Toby Brusseau)

The increase was largely attributed to a 1.2 percent increase in meats, poultry, fish and eggs, a 1 percent increase in dairy and a 3.1 percent increase in fresh fruits.

In the last year, overall grocery prices have increased 1.4 percent.

Costly milk and beef: A few things are contributing to higher dairy prices: the California drought, a state mandate and a thin cattle herd.

Starting March 1, the minimum retail price of milk increased 15 cents a gallon, after a pricing change approved by the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board.

The drought is creating lower milk production in California, which is the nation's largest dairy state.


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Though York County receives most of its dairy from local sources, lower milk production in California puts a strain on the entire industry. There's less supply to meet demand, which drives higher costs.

Also, the country's cattle herd is the smallest since 1951, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The smaller supply is increasing local beef prices.

David Harris, a 66-year-old Manchester Township resident, paid $7.71 Monday for a little more than a pound of 90/10 ground beef at Giant.

"I know it costs more to buy the leaner meat, but I have to watch my cholesterol. It's hard when these prices go up and you're trying to follow doctor's orders and your budget," he said.

A struggle: Harris also struggled to find a cheaper alternative.

A deadly pig virus has decreased the pork supply and caused prices to rise.

The $5.99 price tag on a pound of pork loin was enough to make Harris keep walking.

"Chicken is a little cheaper, but it's still $8 for a bag of organic chicken breasts," he said.

Fresh fruit — another healthy must-have on his grocery list — is also selling at a higher price.

"It costs you an arm and a leg for a bag of oranges anymore," Harris said.

He paid about $6 on Monday for a store-brand bag of oranges.

"It's not just at Giant. I'm seeing these higher prices everywhere," Harris said.

Coffee and oranges: The price of oranges and orange juice has increased because of an insect-borne disease that ravaged Florida's orange crop. Analysts said orange production could be cut by 15 percent, yielding the smallest crop in about 25 years.

Simultaneously, a drought in Brazil is driving up coffee prices. Coffee futures — the financial market exchange for coffee — have increased 57 percent this year.

Price hikes are expected to continue in York County and across the country during the second quarter, analysts said.

"It's going to be a bad couple months, at least three to six months," said Michael Montgomery, an economist at IHS Global Insight.

The biggest impact on consumers is that it puts them in a bad mood, he said.

"Gas and food prices are seen most by consumers. They're very sensitive to those. They notice when pot roast goes up 10 cents," Montgomery said.

A 3 or 4 percent increase on a grocery bill adds about $3 or $4 to a $100 grocery bill, and that's enough for shoppers to take notice, he said.

"It's real, not a phantom. It does cost more to go to the grocery store," Montgomery said.

Search for savings: Most consumers adapt to the higher prices by saving on other items. Customers will start looking for deals and coupons, and grocery chains will accommodate those shoppers, he said.

"Giant recognizes that family budgets are tight, and they continue to negotiate strong, promotional Bonus Buys with vendors on behalf of customers," said spokeswoman Laura Jacobs.

Weis is also trying to keep prices as low as possible, said spokesman Dennis Curtin.

"We've absorbed more than half of the cost increase — and have focused on holding our everyday retails as best we can. We're priced at the minimum price set by the milk marketing board — and not a penny higher — which means we sell at the lowest legally allowable price in (Pennsylvania)," he said.

The majority of consumers will cut where they can and find a way to make their food budgets work, Montgomery said.

"But people don't like changing their behavior. These price increases might not break the bank, but people will find them very annoying," he said.

— Reach Candy Woodall at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.