As global food prices surge to their highest levels in years, an economist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences said climbing worldwide competition for feed grains could make 2011 an important growing season for Pennsylvania's animal-agriculture industries.

James Dunn, professor of agricultural economics, pointed out that American agriculture is the world's leading exporter of feed and food grains. Consumer food prices are closely tied to such large-acreage commodities as corn, wheat and soybeans, and prices for those are currently high. He said dairy and meat producers may struggle to buy animal feed in a tight grain market, so they'd be hit hard by a bad growing year.

"Typically in Pennsylvania, many farmers — such as dairy producers, for instance — grow a lot of their own feed," he said. "And their ability to produce that feed will be exceptionally important this year because if they have an unsuccessful corn silage crop or have difficulty getting their hay in, farmers will have to go out on the open marketplace to replace feed that they've already spent money to produce.