OMAHA, Neb. – 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 a pound this spring, which is in line with last year’s prices but well above the 55 cents-a-pound average for the previous five years.
A recent check at one Omaha-area supermarket found boneless Hormel hams selling for about $2.20 a pound, with bone-in hams slightly cheaper. With sales offered this week to attract Easter shoppers, it was possible to get a bone-in ham for as little as $1.28 a pound.
Paula Vejvoda of Omaha said she’s had her Easter ham in the freezer since Christmas, when she bought it on sale so she could economically feed her family. You really have to watch the ads and see who has the best price, Vejvoda said.
Livestock economist Shane Ellis said the price of ham isn’t likely to drop soon because pork producers’ costs aren’t decreasing. Feed, which is mainly corn, is running about $6 a bushel – not far from the record $7.99 per bushel set last June.
Pork producers also are switching from gestation crates to more open pens amid public 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.