Diet choices fuel rising cost of milk

Sunday, May 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:09 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Ernest Zhang’s family drinks three gallons of skim milk each week. When Zhang went shopping for milk on May 9, he was shocked at what he found.

“For the price of skim milk, it has been $1.80 to $2.09 a gallon for a long time, but it was $2.69,” Zhang said. “We compared it with the soaring gasoline prices. We can not live without both of them because we need to drink a lot of milk and drive every day.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2003 the average retail price for a gallon of whole milk in 30 selected cities nationwide was $2.86. The average price in April was $3.02. Now, the average is $3.43.

In an unscientific phone survey Wednesday of Eastgate Foods, Hy-Vee, Gerbes and Southside Food & Liquors in Columbia, the average cost for a gallon of whole milk in Columbia was $3.38.

Barry Steevens, state specialist for MU’s Animal Sciences Dairy Extension, said there are several reasons the milk prices have dramatically increased.

The university farm has 220 cows and sells milk to the dairy co-op. Steevens said in April the farm was receiving $1.03 per gallon of milk. Now, the farm is receiving $1.46 per gallon.

“The farm price increased 43 cents,” he said. “So, in this case, there was no unusual manipulation of the market.”

Lori Willis, director of communication for Schnuck Markets, provided additional reasons for the price increase.

“There’s great demand for low carb products such as cheese, so there’s less available milk for actual milk products,” she said. “There are fewer farmers in the business of producing milk now than we’ve seen in the recent past.”

Rob McCollum, an assistant manager at Domino’s Pizza on Ninth Street, said his pizzeria has felt the dairy pinch. He said the price of cheese has increased from $26 for 15 pounds to $37 in the past three months.

Steevens said he does expect prices to level off.

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