Crops and cash: High food prices, where they come from and what can be done

"The food thing is definitely down," she said. "People kind of have an idea in their head, 'I will buy $15 or $20 of food for the food drive.' If you do that, last year, you got more."

The reason behind the sticker shock

So what exactly is causing almost every type of food to jump in price?

There are many factors, according to a new report from researchers at Purdue University entitled "What's Driving Food Prices?" The finger is pointed in many directions, but fuel costs, food stocks and the status of the U.S. dollar are the big three causes.

"Today, it's like a perfect storm of all these things coming together at the same time," said Wallace Tyner, an agricultural economist and one of the authors of the Purdue report. A big part of the picture, he said, is simple supply and demand economics.

"In the 80s and 90s we carried three to four months of food stocks," said Tyner. "Today, we carry six to seven weeks of stocks. That means any kind of disruption " all of a sudden a flood hits or a drought hits " and people get nervous."

He pointed to the June flooding in the Midwest that wiped out large corn crops. The event bumped up corn prices more than a dollar over the course of 10 days before they topped out at $7.96 a bushel.

"The reaction of markets is very different now when stocks are very low compared to when stocks are really high," said Tyner. As long as there's not enough corn out on the market, prices will have to remain high to keep consumption in check.

The price of all agricultural commodities is invariably tied to the poor state of the U.S. dollar as well. A weaker dollar makes U.S. agricultural exports far more attractive to foreign nations. Between 2002 and 2007, the value of the dollar slid 22 percent.

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