NEW YORK — Cornflakes will not necessarily be more expensive as a result of rising corn prices, but the milk you pour over them might be.
A drought covering two-thirds of the country has damaged much of the country’s corn crops and pushed grain prices to record levels, triggering fears that a spike in food prices will soon follow.
But there are many factors that determine the price of goods on supermarket shelves. A diminished corn supply does not mean that all food prices will be affected the same way.
In fact, you are more likely to see higher prices for milk and meat than corn on the cob. That is because the sweet corn that shoppers buy at a grocery store is grown differently and not as vulnerable to drought conditions. As for the corn that is used as grain feed for cows, however, farmers are paying more as the drought persists.
The Agriculture Department said last week that it expects grocery prices to rise between 3 percent and 4 percent next year, which is slightly higher than normal. Here’s a look at how different foods will be affected:
Meat and dairy
In addition to paying more to feed their cows, farmers are dealing with grazing pastures that have been baked dry. As a result, farmers are selling off the animals they cannot afford to feed in recent weeks, particularly because cattle supplies are already limited and beef prices have been climbing steadily in recent years.
Beef from those animals streaming into auction yards is expected to start showing up in grocery stores in November and December, temporarily driving down meat prices.
Next year, the USDA says beef prices are expected to jump 4 percent to 5 percent, making it among the biggest price hikes for food. Dairy product prices are expected to climb 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, poultry and egg prices up by 3 percent to 4 percent, and pork prices up by 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.
Fruit and vegetables
Unlike the corn that is grown to make animal feed and oil, produce sold in supermarkets is typically irrigated by farms and not as affected by drought.
Supermarkets also import many of their fruits and vegetables from other countries — such as bell peppers from Holland — so that they can keep supplies and prices in check even if one source is not producing a large amount.
At farmers markets, where consumers buy directly from growers, a spike in prices might be more pronounced. That is because the relentless heat is making it harder to grow certain fruits and vegetables.
Overall, the USDA projects an overall 2 percent to 3 percent price increase for fruits and vegetables next year. That is in line with this year’s increase.
Another worry is that the price of many packaged foods that contain corn or corn ingredients will climb. High-fructose corn syrup, for example, is used in a wide variety of foods.
The corn ingredients that are used in packaged foods mostly are not irrigated, meaning they are also vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and the price fluctuations.
But keep in mind that such ingredients are often a tiny fraction of the costs that go into packaged foods. Among the many expenses food makers such as Kellogg Co. and Kraft Foods Inc. also have to foot: packaging material, labor, advertising, and fuel for trucks to get their products in stores.