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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2008

Price of fresh sweet corn shoots up

BY TED FACKLER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bonnie Elwell, of Toledo, selects from a bin of locally grown corn at Monnette's on Secor Road in Toledo. Bonnie Elwell, of Toledo, selects from a bin of locally grown corn at Monnette's on Secor Road in Toledo.
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Area diners craving sweet corn are likely to pay more than they did a year ago.

Higher production costs and low supplies have boosted the price of an ear about 30 percent higher than it was last summer.

A half-dozen ears at The Andersons Market in Sylvania are about $3, up from $2 last year. At Monnette's Markets, six ears cost $2, up from about $1.50. And at Kroger Co. supermarkets, $2 - up from $1.60 last summer - will buy four ears.

"Right now costs are high because the yields are low," said Jim Sautter, owner of Sautter's 5-Star Market in Sylvania. "But once the yields start increasing, prices will drop remarkably to $1.99 a dozen." Until then, Mr. Sautter is charging double that: $4 for a dozen ears.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly report, sweet corn prices were on a typical decline since May as more was harvested and sent to market. But over the last two weeks the average price in the Midwest suddenly rose to 40 cents an ear from 20 cents.

"Nothing is written in stone when it comes to [the cost of] produce," said John DeFalco, co-owner of Monnette's on Secor Road in Toledo.

Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., said the high price of corn is caused directly by high oil prices, which pushed fertilizer and transportation costs up sharply this year.

Mr. Hurt estimated that oil prices helped contribute to a 60 percent increase in production costs of both feed corn, an ingredient in animal feed and some food products, and sweet corn.

Additionally, the Ag Department reported that corn crops in the Midwest were planted late because of excessive spring rain and then were damaged by flooding in June.

The crops are behind schedule and an early cold snap could cause more losses. an early cold snap could cause more losses.

At Fall Family Farms in Toledo, owner Dave Fall has struggled with increased costs and spring floods in some fields. The corn supply is low, he said.

"Fertilizer went from $300 a ton to about $1,100 in the last year," he said. Bags of seed that sold for $700 last year cost $773 this season, and the cost of transporting corn jumped 15 percent, he added.

The rising cost of sweet corn well into July has amazed veteran grocer Walt Churchill, owner of Walt Churchill's Market in Maumee. "In the old days we used to sell corn for 39 cents a dozen," he said. His price this week: $2 for six ears.

But so far, customer complaints have been minimal, he added.

Mr. Sautter said his customers have been understanding. "I really think that people realize what these farmers are going through to grow this stuff you're paying $4 a gallon for gas, plus other [farming] expenses."

Mr. Fall said if yields increase, prices should drop soon. "We want to keep a dozen ears less than a gallon of gas."

Contact Ted Fackler at:

tfackler@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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