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OMAHA — Ham will be the centerpiece of many Easter dinners this weekend, but the cost of that traditional main dish may make it harder for families to live high on the hog.
Ham prices have been higher than usual for the past two years because the cost of pig feed has gone up, and some major pork producers are spending millions to convert barns as they phase out cramped cages used to confine pregnant sows.
Ham has been selling wholesale for 75 to 80 cents per pound this spring, which is in line with last year’s prices but well above the 55 cents per pound average for the previous five years.
A recent check at one Omaha-area supermarket found boneless Hormel hams selling for about $2.20 per pound, with bone-in hams slightly cheaper. With Easter sales, it was possible to get a bone-in ham for $1.28 per pound.
Livestock economist Shane Ellis said the price of ham isn’t likely to drop soon.
Pork producers are switching from gestation crates to more open pens amid pressure from consumers and animal welfare advocates who believe the smaller cages are cruel.
One major producer, Smithfield Foods, recently said it expects to spend nearly $300 million by 2017 to convert its barns. The switch also requires more labor to manage the sows because they tend to fight. Some of those costs are likely to be passed on to consumers.
Americans consume about 51 pounds of pork a year on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mr. Ellis said prices typically peak in June, near the height of the grilling season when demand is highest.