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Talking turkey: Record prices for birds, potential butter shortages, inflation confront Thanksgiving

Overall, inflation moderated some in October from its wave of 40-year highs.

But, consumers are still facing increased prices for food — as well as some potential shortages — for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Turkey prices are up 16.9% compared to a year ago, according to new Consumer Price Index numbers released Nov. 10. Higher prices for Thanksgiving’s centerpiece birds could get even higher as the holiday approaches.

The American Farm Bureau Federation expects record turkey prices for the upcoming holiday.

Retail prices for boneless, skinless turkey breasts hit $6.70 per pound, which is up 112% from last year when prices were $3.16 per pound. That’s a record high, according to the agriculture group.

Turkey and other poultry prices have been impacted this year by bird flu outbreaks across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports more than 50 million birds in 614 commercial and backyard flocks have been impacted by the avian flu this year. Those result in the culling of chickens, turkeys and other birds.

That has also helped propel egg prices. The latest CPI has egg prices up 43% compared to a year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“That’s causing a lot of issues,” said Lauren Poor, director of government and national affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Poor is also seeing increased prices and concerns about supplies of butter. “I have heard a lot about butter,” she said.

The USDA reported last month there was 22% less butter in cold storage than a year ago and that producers continue to be challenged by labor shortages.

Prices for butter and margarine are up 33.6% since last October, according to BLS.

John Hickman, director of Salisbury University’s Business Economic and Community Outreach Network on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, also points to USDA forecasts of turkey prices increasing and supply challenges for other items.

“Supply in the U.S. has been impacted by the avian flu,” said Hickman.

Turkey prices could be up as much as 73% per pound for whole birds, according to the federal agency.

Holiday ingredients

The new CPI showed a 7.7% overall rise in U.S. prices since October 2021. That is still a painful pinch on consumers but is the smallest year-over-year price increase since January.

Consumers will also see higher prices for other Thanksgiving essentials and ingredients as they prepare for the annual feast.

That includes higher year-over-year prices for vegetables (8.3%) — including potatoes (up 15.2%). Prices for fresh fruits are up 6.6% from last year while canned fruits are up 18.7%, according to BLS. Overall, grocery prices were up 12.4% in October compared to a year ago.

Prices are up for other staples such as flour (24.6%), rice (14.8%), pickles, olives and relish (17.5%) and gravy (14.6%).

Tom Lochner, executive director of the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, expects there to be plenty of supplies for cranberries for the upcoming holiday season.

“The supplies look pretty good,” said Lochner, whose group represents more than 200 growers. Wisconsin and Massachusetts lead the U.S. in cranberry production.

Lochner said there were some inventory challenges during the earlier stages of the coronavirus with increased demand for cranberry juice and dried cranberries from workers and parents and students sequestered at home by pandemic restrictions.

He also referenced weather challenges to growers including fluctuations with temperatures earlier this year impacting crops. “We have seen increased volatility of weather patterns,” Lochner said.

Extreme weather and unexpected or abrupt climate and environmental changes have also pushed up prices for lettuce (up 17.7%) and oranges (up 10.8), according to BLS.

Hurricane Ian — a Category 4 storm with a 60-mile eye wall that hit southwestern Florida in late September — could have a $1.56 billion hit on Florida’s agriculture industry, which is led by citrus crops, according to a post-storm analysis by the University of Florida.

Lettuce prices also have gone up and supplies have gone down after lower crop yields in California as well as international markets such as Australia due to warmer temperatures.

Price points

Christa Leupen, a spokeswoman for North Carolina-based Butterball Inc., said the turkey giant “has not seen any supply disruptions” and influenza outbreaks have impacted less than 1% of production.

Leupen expects supplies “to look the same as last year.” She also does not expect American consumers to ditch turkeys as the centerpiece protein of their Thanksgiving meals. Instead, U.S. households might cut back on other side dishes and desserts for the holiday which is anchored by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games.

Leupen also noted turkey is traditionally a less expensive meat and all the leftovers options the birds offer. Butterball is also donating 150,000 turkey meals this holiday season to charities helping those in need, she said.

Major grocery chains, some of which have faced scrutiny over price increases and profit margins during the inflation wave, mostly did not respond to requests for comment about Thanksgiving.

The exception was ALDI, which has more than 2,200 stores in 39 states including Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, California and New York.

The German-owned chain announced Nov. 1 it would be charging 2019 prices for more than 50 popular Thanksgiving items at its stores including cornbread stuffing, cheeses, apple pie, macarons and select wines.

That comes after an October announcement of price cuts that will run through the end of the year for products such as honey, black beans, juices, ground beef and salmon.

“While the entire industry has been facing inflation and rising costs, we’re doing everything we can to keep prices down.”

In Oregon, Poor said labor shortages have put upward wage pressures on farmers and other food producers. Higher fertilizer prices (spurred by U.S. sanctions against Russia and Belarus) as well as state regulatory costs, including new state overtime and emissions rules are also baked into food chains.

“You have inflation. You also have the increased costs from fuel and fertilizer costs. Then everyone had to pay more for their labor because they were unable find anyone to work for a while,” she said, referring to pandemic and post-pandemic labor shortages.

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Lab professor reflects on state of the Chesapeake Bay

People sail and paddle and boat on it, they catch fish and other seafood from it, they swim in it and they explore it, and on Tuesday a lecture on the state of the Chesapeake Bay was held.

Professor Emeritus Walter Boynton of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory spoke about the bay during a presentation titled “Chesapeake Reflections: What We’ve Learned During the Past 50 Years and Where We Need To Go in the Future” at the laboratory’s offices in Solomons.

“It’s a fascinating, responsive ecosystem,” Boynton said of the Chesapeake Bay, which is about 200 miles long and has more than 11,000 miles of shoreline. “It’s not a brontosaurus where you pushed on it and nothing happened [except that] it roared. It’s much more like a greyhound where responses can be quick.”

Boynton spoke about how change is a common theme in the Chesapeake Bay, related a bit of history, shared several stories of loss and how environmental science unravels causes and cures, ad climate change.

“It was basically what I expected,” California resident Jay Perez, “but it was nice to hear that somebody did the research and put it together and presented it.”

The seminar was the fifth and final one of CBL’s Science for the Community Series, which also covered topics such as sturgeon, crabs, terrapins and dolphins. An average of 160 people attended each seminar, which was available live and virtually.

Boynton began his 45-minute talk by showing a 1588 painting that presented Indigenous people in a dugout canoe along with various forms of sea life in crystal clear water that also showed the bottom of the water column.

He also shared a quote from 1859’s “The Old Plantation” that reads, “So transparent are its waters that far out from shore you may see, in the openings of the weed forest, on its bottom the flashing sides of the finny tribe they glide over the pearly sands.”

“The water quality was bad in the 1970s and 1980s,” Perez said, “but it’s a little bit better. And there’s forward momentum.”

“I think we can get back to the days where the water is much clearer than it is now,” Boynton said.

The professor also explained how current nitrogen and phosphorus — which plants need to grow — inputs to the Patuxent River have seen a seven-fold increase since John Smith’s arrival in the area, including a 2½ times increase over the past 50 years, and why it is good for the bay.

“The first question is often, ‘Do we have enough [nitrogen and phosphorus] to grow a healthy plant community?’ And the answer right now is we have too much,” he said.

He added that a surplus of the two causes algae blooms that sink to the bottom of the bay and create dead zones, but added much is being done to remedy the situation.

He said electric power generating stations have cleaned up exhaust “roughly by half.”

“You don’t clean the rain, you clean what you put into the rain,” he said. “So there’s less in the atmosphere.”

He added that sewage treatment plants have gotten “better and better” at removing more of the nitrogen in waste and the way best management practices — or BMPs — are being applied to agriculture to help stem unnecessary runoff into the bay and its tributaries.

“The idea is we want agriculture to thrive,” he said. “We want them to use the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus they need and we want them to use no more than what they need.”

One of most successful ways BMPs reduce nutrient runoff to rivers and the bay is the use of cover crops.

“In the fall a lot of crops turn green again and those crops suck up residual nitrogen that would go into the bay,” he said. “We like that a lot.”

He also shared restorative efforts of seagrasses, which began to decline in the 1940s and have gone from 300,000 acres to just 38,000.

“I was surprised [to hear] that in 1962 we still had a lot of [submerged aquatic vegetation] and it was gone by the 1970s,” California resident Val Perez said. “It was an eight-year difference from a lot to nothing.”

Boynton said the decline is due in part to several factors, including boat wakes, toxins, overgrazing and disruption by animals, water column turbidity and cataclysmic events such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

But Boynton is also optimistic about the future of the Chesapeake Bay.

“I think we’re in a good trajectory and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “We’re about ... maybe about one-third of where we need to go. Some people might say, ‘Yeah, I know, but you’ve been at it for 35 years and you haven’t fixed it yet.’ But that’s in the face of continued population growth.”

Boynton said when the bay was starting to get cleaned up there were 12 million people living in the basin; now there are 19 million.

“That’s a big difference and we’re still making progress,” he said. “That’s great, so I’m a bit of an optimist.”

Twitter: @MichaelSoMdNews

Ridgely gets 35 years for Calvert woman's murder

“It’s not just one victim,” Calvert Circuit Court Judge Mark Chandlee said Monday as he imposed a life sentence, with plea agreement stipulations, on defendant Travis Benjamin Ridgely for the murder of Selena Noelle Persinger.

As determined by the plea agreement made in July, Chandlee suspended all but 35 years of the sentence. The judge said Ridgely, 35, would have to serve 20 years in the department of corrections before he would be eligible for parole. Upon his release, Ridgely will have five years of supervised probation.

Following his arrest this past January, Ridgely confessed to strangling to death Persinger at her residence and stealing her truck.

The victim was discovered by her mother and Ridgely was identified as the suspect through information provided by acquaintances of Ridgely and Persinger, plus surveillance camera footage. Persinger was allowing Ridgely to stay at her residence.

Maryland State Police in Charles County arrested Ridgely after he crashed Persinger’s truck.

In court documents, Detective Mike Mudd stated a man familiar with both Ridgely and Persinger told investigators he had tried to call Persinger on her cellphone the day before she was found dead and Ridgely answered it. Ridgely told the man Persinger “was taking a nap,” the charging papers stated.

During the hearing Monday morning, Deputy State’s Attorney Timothy Maher noted that during a presentence investigation Ridgely had prior convictions for second-degree assault and driving while intoxicated.

Persinger, 37, was described by her mother, Barbara Rodda, as someone who “loved the beach, music, animals and children.”

Rodda, who was too overcome with grief to read a statement to the court — Persinger’s brother, Robby Kidwell, read it for her — said Ridgely “took away my chance to see my daughter. It’s suffering that will last forever.”

Maher called the incident “a truly senseless killing,” adding that Persinger was slain “during an argument about money and her truck.”

Ridgely’s attorney, Bradley Warby, noted his client gave a full confession after being picked up by police and is “taking the responsibilities of his actions.”

Warby indicated Ridgely was sorry for his actions.

Ridgely declined to address the court.

Persinger had once operated a child daycare center and was also a dog groomer.

Noting Persinger’s many family members and friends in the courtroom, Chandlee lamented that after Persinger was killed, “the world became a much lesser place.”

Twitter: @MartySoMdNews

Brandywine man gets life plus 125 years for Charles murder

A Brandywine man will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for felony first-degree murder and other charges related to a June 2020 shooting in Charles County.

Richard Eugene Middleton Jr., 39, was given the sentence of life plus 125 years without parole by Charles County Circuit Court Judge Donine Carrington-Martin on Nov. 9.

“This is amongst the most violent heinous crimes that I think most of us have come across,” Jonathan Beattie, Charles assistant state’s attorney, said during sentencing, according to a release put out by the Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Middleton was convicted on June 13 on five felony charges — first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of first-degree assault and one count of home invasion — and several weapons-related misdemeanors.

On June 15, 2020, officers were called to the 2400 block of Shawnee Lane in Waldorf for a report of a shooting.

When officers arrived, they found Kwasi Louard-Clarke, 34, of Waldorf dead from multiple gunshot wounds, while two other victims, Montreal Wade and Tyrone Coleman, were found nearby also suffering from gunshot wounds.

Wade and Coleman were rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries but both survived.

An investigation revealed that Middleton and Louard-Clarke were involved in an altercation at a barbershop where Middleton worked.

Louard-Clarke left after the altercation and returned to his home at the 11700 block of Lancelot Drive in Waldorf, where he was joined by Coleman and Wade.

While the three were hanging out, Middleton, armed with a gun, was dropped off near Louard-Clarke’s residence and approached on foot before shooting all three men, according to police. Coleman was shot in the arm and stomach, while Wade was hit twice in the back.

Both Coleman and Wade left in a vehicle from the scene.

Louard-Clarke was shot in the leg as he fled to a neighboring residence.

Middleton followed Louard-Clarke inside the residence and then chased him outside the residence. Middleton shot Louard-Clarke multiple times in the head and fled the area. He was caught by police later that day.

Twitter: @DarrylSoMdNews

Leonardtown High School junior Elena Blodnikar captured the Maryland 4A girls cross country title last Saturday afternoon at Hereford High School, completing the course in 18 minutes, 58.8 seconds.

Jonathan, left, and Aimee Hines share a laugh with co-host Ree Drummond during Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge.