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How the drought may dampen holiday dinner

Residents gather for a free Thanksgiving dinner at St. Francis de Sales Parish in the Rockaway neighborhood on November 22, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. While Thanksgiving might not have been affected, consumers can expect higher food prices later in the holiday season, thanks to the drought earlier this year.

There hasn’t been drought as bad as the one that hit this summer in a quarter century. The USDA says about 80 percent of agricultural land has been affected.

And while your Thanksgiving shopping list may not have been affected, shopping for Christmas for dinner may be another story.

This summer’s drought has some farmers selling off their livestock today because they’re worried about how to feed them tomorrow. "Prices for wheat and corn spiked dramatically in July," says Leslie Levesque, an economist with IHS Global.

And feed prices are only now starting to come down. In the meantime, if you want a bargain at the grocery store, buy a frozen turkey -- now.

John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University, says this summer when feed prices went up farmers sold their livestock early and cheap, but with continuing high costs, the closer we get to Christmastime, the higher food prices will creep up.

"It's not a shortage of feed; it's the high price of feed," Stanton says.  "Keep in mind, food prices are not ever likely to come down."

As consumers in developing countries continue to eat more like Americans, with diets heavy on meat, we’ll experience more demand for some of our favorite foods, like beef and dairy. But don’t cancel your Christmas dinner yet. Stanton says retailers are under pressure to keep prices low,  so it’s they who will be eating a good portion of the increases.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.
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