Poultry is a high priced meal ticket - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Poultry is a high priced meal ticket

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ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

It seems like prices are going up on everything these days.  You're probably paying more to put chicken on your dinner table, and much of that increase has to do with the fuel you put in your car.

The government mandates now that 10 percent of fuel you put in your car is ethanol. That of course is made from corn.

Record numbers of acres were planted last year, but a drought and the demand for ethanol increased demand for corn, which in turn made chicken feed one very expensive meal.

At Maryland's Fried Chicken, legs, thighs, and wings have been menu staple for decades, but over the past couple of years the price for poultry has flocked upwards.

"Strips, boneless breasts are going up higher. Wings, whole wings, have almost doubled in price," said Rick Astran, Maryland Fried Chicken.

Suppliers tell me that a pound of poultry that went for .89 cents two years ago is up more than $2.00 today, supermarkets and restaurants can no longer afford to absorb the costs. That impacts the consumer.

"You have to go along with the prices. SO we have to prices a little bit, but not as much," said Astran.

Most, if not nearly all of the problem has to do with the price of corn. It's used to feed chickens but nearly half of all the corn grown in the US now goes to Ethanol.

Couple that with last year's Midwest drought and the demand has sent the price per bushel of corn to nearly 8 dollars.

"Based on current prices and future prices corn could be anywhere from a $1.00 to $1.50 more per bushel in 2013 which is going to cost us somewhere between $150-200 million more in cost," said Astran.

Sanderson Farms which operates plants in southwest Georgia has cut production by 6% but increased pay to its growers.

Georgia has a nearly 5 billion dollar a year poultry industry with many growers forced to cut back on the number of flocks. The solution will likely fall in the hands of lawmakers.

"We've got to do something about the way we use corn and have an honest and intellectual debate about the use of corn for food or the use corn for fuel," said Astran.

For now the fuel industry is winning. But the food industry could be hurting along with poultry growers, unless some compromise can be reached.

Last week I spoke with Congressman Sanford Bishop who chairs the congressional chicken caucus. He tells me that lawmakers will be looking at ways to better manage the supply of corn for feed versus ethanol. Still producers are bracing for prices to only go higher.

And some south Georgia growers who did not want to appear on camera say they've seen the number of flocks go down considerably which is making it difficult for them to pay off loans and make a living.

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