A federal study finds food prices will take a bigger bite out of Iowans’ food budgets this year. Rick Volpe, an economist with the U-S Department of Agriculture, says a trip to the grocery store will mean either less food in your cart or less money in your wallet.

“It will be hard to pay roughly the same amount you paid in 2010,” Volpe says. “There is no question that the food budget is going up for a lot of households.” Volpe says the highest price hikes will be seen in the supermarket’s meat and dairy cases.

“We’re forecasting a seven-to-eight-percent increase in retail beef prices and six-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half for pork,” he says. “Your milk, yogurt and cheese, we are forecasting about a five-percent increase.”

Volpe says there are several reasons for the hike in food prices but the rising cost of fuel is foremost. Triple-A-Iowa says the statewide average for a gallon of self-serve unleaded gas is now three-92, more than a dollar higher than a year ago when the state average was two-85.

He says those higher gas prices trickle down. “Fuel prices are up which increases production costs for all commodities but particularly for a lot of meat and dairy products,” he says.

Even if you decide to cut back on meat and dairy consumption and fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, Volpe says you’ll still be paying more.

“Fruits and vegetables, as a whole, to go up about three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half-percent,” Volpe says. “We’re forecasting an increase in poultry of about three-percent over 2010.”

Volpe says livestock feeders also have to pay more for corn and that price hike is being passed along to consumers, too.