Well this one is quite simple and popular right now, food prices are going up because it costs more to grow/raise so farmers are raising prices right?
Most crops, basically anything except for special cases and some specialty crops, are sold in a way that we do not have any control over. They are sold in a way similar to the stock markets, there are traders and speculators but instead of parts of a business its contracts for commodities at various times of the year, usually each month and usually up to a year or more ahead of time. Most of the time these are called exchanges, such as the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, a major player in spring wheat prices, which is made into flour for bread.
We can sign a contract with a grain marketing company, grain terminal, or grain elevator, all have agents at the exchanges, based on the prices to sell x amount on x contract. We can also(most of the time) just show up with a truck load and sell for whatever the current contract is trading for, minus the basis.
Basis can be thought of as what it costs the grain company to handle and deliver the grain to whoever purchased the contract. It is subtracted from the spot price when we sell. It is possible for the basis to be positive, such as when a terminal or elevator is filling a train or contract and realizes that they don't have enough to fill it and not filling it will result in penalties and extra costs(such as having to buy grain from other grain companies or paying for the rail road to pull an empty car).
As a result, we have basically no say in the price.
To add insult to injury, we, in the US, are half mandated to fill out surveys by the USDA that say how much of each commodity we have stored on the farm. That information is released to the public approximately monthly.
Livestock its slightly different.
Cattle are mostly sold at auction, although some private sales do happen. Buyers for feedlots and packers(meat packing plants, butchers etc) bid on like, presorted groups in the ring. They bid by the hundredweight(CWT). In other words, if they bid $150 on a group of calves that weigh approximately 500 pounds, they are paying approximately $750 a head.(150*5 or 1.5*500) Yes that is a realistic number as we sadly sold some for that price. The groups are usually sorted by the auction yard(Stockyard or ring) and the ring itself is on a scale and they are weighed immediately before they start the bidding, usually with that information going up on screens above the auctioneer.
Again we have no say in the price there, aside from "no sale" ing them and taking them home or to another ring, which...usually doesn't get you anywhere.
Poultry and hogs/pigs are different. Most are on contracts only anymore, with very little sold the way that cattle are. One farmer gets contracted by a meat packing company to breed and/or birth the livestock, another to raise them and another to fatten up/finish them. In theory it should be a very efficient and profitable system, but with only 4 meat packing companies in the US, you are stuck with "take it or not have anything to raise". Each contract specifies what to feed them, how much they will pay for feed, how much they will pay for veterinary things, how much per head you will be paid, how much they should weigh and how consistent that should be, etc. Penalties of course exist.
Again we don't really have a say in the price.
So while the claim that farmers and ranchers are raising their prices may make sense, its simply not true. It is the middleman. For example: the average profit for the meat packing companies for 1 beef carcass is approximately $1500. Profit. That's taking in consideration the cost they bought it from the feedlots, the cost of the workers processing it, the cost of utilities, the cost of materials used to package it, and the cost to ship it to a warehouse and then to a store.
I, as a beef cattle rancher, took a loss this year selling calves.
The above example is also the reason why you may have heard about anti trust suits against meat packing companies and why the agricultural community wants them broken up. There is little competition and little we can do about the prices.
So to be clear, basically unless you are buying directly from a farmer or rancher or other producer, we have 0 control over the price.
A potential Question that may occur:
Can't you like unionize?
The problem with that is there are about 2 million of us in the US alone, all in very varying conditions. Its about impossible to do, but it was tried in the 1980s to...little success and the other issue is that importing materials is a thing. The world isn't short of livestock or grain. It's not short of boats and planes and facilities capable of moving those things.
Edited by TheGleaner