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Swine Fever In China And Flooding In The Midwest Are Driving Up Costs For Your Favorite Kielbasa


FELL TWP. — Harry Utegg raises his own pigs, so you might assume a jump in global pork prices amid an Asian swine epidemic would not hit his wallet. On the contrary. He probably feels it more than most. The Honesdale businessman and bus company owner buys hundreds of pounds of kielbasa every year. He gets 75 rings at Christmas, 50 rings at Easter. He bought 25 rings a few weeks ago. On Tuesday, he bought 15 — all from Oprisko’s Kielbasa in Fell Twp. He shares it with friends and family. He keeps a lot for himself. “Nobody makes it like they do,” he said of Oprisko’s. “They’ve got a recipe that’s great, and believe me, I’ve tried it all over the place.” But lately Oprisko Kielbasa owner David Rupp, who bought the business on Morse Avenue three years ago, has to explain to loyal customers like Utegg why his specialty product, smoked for hours in his 78-year-old outdoor smoker, costs about 50 cents per pound more than it did before Christmas. African swine fever broke out in China in August. Like the avian flu in poultry, African swine fever is harmless to humans, but it’s fatal to pigs. As of April 23, Chinese farms, which produce more pork than in any other nation, have culled more than 1 million pigs to keep it from spreading, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Surrounding nations have felt it, too. In Mongolia, more than 3,115 pigs, or 10 percent of the nation’s pig population, have died or been killed. In Vietnam, they’ve culled 1.3 million; in Cambodia, more than 2,400 have been culled or died, according to the U.N. On top of swine fever, flooding in the Midwest is adding upward pressure on the price, Rupp said. The wholesale price for the Hatfield pork butts Rupp buys have risen steadily since he bought the place from second-generation kielbasa maker Kenneth Oprisko. Back then, he paid a dollar less per pound than he does now, but costs never jumped so fast, he said. “It’s not just going up on us little guys, it’s going up for everybody,” he said. At small butcher shop Jerry & Son Market in Nanticoke, owners John Gerrity Jr. and his wife Joanne started to see pork prices increase before Easter. “We’ve been waiting for it to come down for a while. Usually, the week before Easter, people are done processing stuff for the holidays so pork starts coming down. It continued to rise.” If the price of pork continues to go up, he said they will have no choice but to raise prices for customers. “We are held hostage,” Joanne Gerrity said. “The good thing on our part is that swine flu isn’t here.” Kevin Sebring doesn’t see the problem softening for at least 18 to 24 months, he said. As part of a franchise with 600 stores, the owner of the Honey Baked Ham Co. in Dickson City buys meat as part of a group and locks in pork prices months in advance. So he was able to keep prices even for the Easter Holiday, he said. More recently, his prices at the store have crept up. That wasn’t the case for Rupp, who can’t buy direct from Hatfield because he only produces about 19,000 pounds of kielbasa a year. He has to go through a distributor. For Easter, with costs rising, he opted to absorb the added costs. He lost $2,000, he said. Although problems started almost a year ago, the public is just becoming aware of rising prices. So far, Sebring’s customers have not recoiled at the price increases, though he thinks that day will come. “Across the board, it affects the cost of my sandwiches and platters and everything,” he said. “We’re not expecting any downward fluctuation over the next two years.” DENISE ALLABAUGH, staff writer, contributed to this report. Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter

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