Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

From chicken nuggets to corn flakes, food prices at grocery stores and dinner tables could be headed even higher as farmers cut back on the land they're planting in corn this spring.

Corn prices already are high, and a drop in supply should keep them rising. Combine that with the huge demand for corn-based ethanol fuel and higher energy costs for transporting food, and consumers are likely to see their food bills going up and up.

Farmers are expected to plant 86 million acres of corn this year, the Department of Agriculture predicted recently, down 8 percent from last year, which was the highest since World War II.

Ohio farmers expect to plant 3.35 million acres of corn, a 500,000-acre decrease from last year, while increasing soybean acreage by 350,000 acres, to 4.5 million. Corn is almost everywhere you look in the U.S. food supply.

Components are even used in many grocery store items that aren't edible including disposable diapers and dry-cell batteries. Corn prices have skyrocketed in recent years, almost tripling since 2005.

They have been pushed along by the burgeoning ethanol industry, which turns the crop into fuel, and by rising worldwide demand for food. "People who are working families, just barely making it and already paying higher prices for gas and home heating oil are going to be shot in the pocket by higher food prices," said Carol Tucker-Foreman of the Consumer Federation of America.

According to the Agriculture Department, corn planting is expected to remain at historically high levels but might dip this year because of the high expense of growing corn and favorable prices for other crops such as soybeans.

As many farmers have switched, soybean planting is expected to be up 18 percent this year, at almost 75 million acres. Farmers also are expected to plant more wheat this year, which could lower retail prices for pasta and bread.

The Department of Agriculture report was based on sample surveys of 86,000 farm operators in the first two weeks of March.