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November 19. 2012 10:48PM

As Thanksgiving nears, turkey feed, apples, pecans get pricey in NH


Shoppers buying breads, pastries and pies for Thanksgiving may be paying a little bit more this year because of increases in the price of nuts, berries and grains, said Cynthia Crockett, owner of Bakery 42 in Antrim. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)
Thanksgiving dinner may be a bit more expensive this year, especially for folks who prefer to buy their food locally, but many local producers have decided not to raise prices - even though their own costs have skyrocketed.

On a national level, the Consumer Price Index figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show food prices increasing by 1.7 percent over the last year. The sharpest rises can be seen in the cost of coffee, apples, beef and wine. The cost for frozen turkeys has actually gone down just over a penny per pound since last year, a statistic that has farmers in the Granite State scratching their heads.

Grappling with grain

"I have no idea how the grocery stores are selling turkeys as cheap as they are," said turkey farmer Russell Gates, owner of Meadows End Farm in Hopkinton. "The grain prices are killing me."

Gates will sell about 70 fresh, farm-raised turkeys for Thanksgiving this year at about $3.75 a pound, a 25-cent increase over last year's prices. That increase all has to do with the price of grain, which he has to buy to feed his brood. Grain prices have skyrocketed in the last few months due to drought and storms in the Midwest.

"It's just ridiculously expensive," said Monique Champney, owner of Hermit Brook Farm in Sanbornton. "And we are the ones who are taking the hit."

Champney said she's decided to keep her price at $4 per pound for her all-natural turkeys because she's concerned about scaring her customers away.

"I have a loyal following, but I'm afraid to raise my prices," she said. "I'm just going to have to make less this year and hope things are better next year."

In Bradford, Ed Erickson, owner of the Battles Farm, knew it was going to be a tough year, so he raised his prices by 50 cents going in to the season.

"I should have gone up a buck," he said. "Grain alone went up 25 percent two months ago."

Balancing act

Ross Hart of Hart's Turkey Farm in Meredith isn't in the turkey-raising game anymore, but the popular restaurant will serve close to 1,700 people on Thanksgiving, and will cook nearly 200 turkeys for folks to pick up. Though the cost of the pre-cooked turkeys has gone up 5 percent over last year, Hart said he hopes the lower prices of other Thanksgiving staples like potatoes will even out his costs.

Apples to apples

Like the turkey farmers, bakers are also running into extremely high costs for some of their ingredients.

For Joe Lannan, owner of New England Country Pies in Merrimack, the cost of apples forced him to raise the price of his famous four-pound "Mile High Apple Pie" by $1.

"The cost for sliced apples has almost doubled," he said, "and we can't pass all of that cost on to the customer."

A warm spell in early spring caused apple trees in the Northeast to bloom early. That was followed by a hard frost. More bad weather affected crops across North America throughout the season; the end result is a short supply of apples.

The price increase hasn't hurt Lannan's business. He's still cranking out nearly 6,000 pies a day for his wholesale operation and will sell a few thousand out of his retail shop for Thanksgiving.

Prices go nuts

At Bakery 42 in Antrim, owner Cynthia Crockett said the price of fruits and nuts is changing the way she does business. Unusual weather has hit pecan farmers hard, and the price of the nuts has gone through the roof for the second year in a row.

"I couldn't even offer pecan pie last Thanksgiving because I couldn't charge what it would have cost to make it," she said.

For Karen Car, owner of Just Like Mom's Pastries in Weare, a little early planning saved the day.

"My supplier told me early on that peanut butter and pecans were going to go sky high, so I stocked up," she said. "I didn't have to raise prices, and I didn't have to cut anything. But I'm hoping the prices come back down soon."

nfoster@newstote.com

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