A customer picks up a gallon of milk for sale at Harmons Grocery store in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.
George Frey/Bloomberg
November 4, 2021 10:13 PM EDT

For all the talk about how expensive milk has become, the average price of a gallon of whole milk in the U.S. has only risen 4% over the past year — and a mere 1.4% since the beginning of 2021.

Milk may be enjoying a moment in the spotlight after a CNN interview with one family went viral, but it is far from being the American staple that has seen prices skyrocket most, fanning fears of inflation across the nation. Consider meat prices — boneless chuck roast has surged 28% in the last year — or average prices for a gallon of gas, which as of Thursday surged 61% from at the same time last year.

Still, U.S. retail prices for a gallon of milk have been edging higher for the past three years. And a number of factors are at work pointing to future price increases for milk. For one, the number of dairy cows in the U.S. is plunging at a pace not seen in more than a decade, leading to weak production.

And help won’t be coming from abroad. Globally, the major dairy producers including the European Union, New Zealand and Australia, are also having dry periods for output, according to Nate Donnay, director of dairy at StoneX. Global stockpiles of milk powder, which are exported around the world and can be reconstituted into the beverage, have been dropping for four years.

The average cost for a gallon of milk is $3.59, which is up 26% since bottoming out in July 2018.

Milk prices are set to rise in Canada as well. The Canadian Dairy Commission, a government agency that controls prices and the nation’s output, said it will raise the prices paid to farmers on Feb. 1. That will boost the cost of milk by 8.4% and help offset higher feed, energy and fertilizer costs, according to a statement.

Saputo Inc., Canada’s largest dairy processor, said it plans to hike its prices as a result.

Prices for many food commodities are touching multi-year highs this year amid pandemic-induced shipping and logistics snags, as well as adverse weather in major producing areas. That’s help to push up food prices generally, fanning inflation fears. A United Nations gauge of food prices is at a decade-high.

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