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Corn Shortage Driving Up Food Prices

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Corn is much more than that ear of corn we eat on the Fourth of July.

It is a basic American staple found in lots of other products.

So when demand increases for corn doubling its price, then a lot of other products will go up, too.

Why is the price going up?

Some experts blame corn-based ethanol at the gas pump.

Corn is as American as apple pie, but the growing demand and high price for this product for corn-based ethanol gasoline has cut U.S. supplies for consumption to its lowest point since the 1990's.

"If they can make more money on the fuel corn for the ethanol, then they'll plant fields for that, rather than for the consumption of regular people on the sweet corn," says Brad Kokowski of Superior Produce in the Strip District.

Kokowski says planting corn for ethanol is easier than planting sweet corn fit for humans.

"There's a lot more caring that has to be taken when you're doing sweet corn. On the fuel corn, they plant it and it grows and whatever the weather, the weather doesn't seem to affect it as much."

At the Consumers Produce warehouse in the Strip, there is only one pallet of sweet corn on the shelves.

It's hard to imagine that a small product like corn could play havoc in America's food stores, but experts say that the doubling of the corn price could affect the prices of lots of other prices at the grocery store.

From corn syrup in soft drinks to corn chips and cereals, corn is a key ingredient.

And out on the farm corn feeds a lot of the animals we ultimately eat.

On the Scott family farm in Oakdale, corn is key to the cows whose milk we drink.

"About 30 to 40 percent of what the cows eat is corn," says dairy farmer Bill Scott. "But also when the price of corn goes up, other things like fertilizer go up."

While he's resisted, Scott says more farmers in this area are growing corn for gasoline, not for livestock or humans.

"Quite a bit even in western Pennsylvania, there's a lot of corn going to ethanol production."

And as farmers make more money doing that, Scott worries consumers will pay a price.

"Food is something that we really have to make sure there is a plentiful supply of and it's affordable for everybody."

The corn shortage comes just when weather is contributing to world-wide shortages of wheat, sugar, coffee and chocolate -- all of which drive up grocery prices.

Some say the corn shortage was caused by government policies.

Corn-based ethanol is designed to end America's dependence on foreign oil.

But it appears consumers will pay for that at the grocery store as much as at the gas pump.

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