Mailbox prices for January will be anything but encouraging following the USDA’s announcement of class prices for the first month of 2003.

The USDA announced the January Class III price at $9.78 — a mere 4-cent increase from December. The Class IV price faired much worse. The USDA announced the January Class IV price at $10.07 — 42 cents less than December. The Class II price shared a similar fate. It fell 33 cents to $11.29 during January.

Block cheese prices continue to hover about 4 cents above the support price of $1.1314 per pound. At the close of trading on Jan. 30, block cheese settled at $1.17 per pound. Meanwhile, barrel cheese prices continue to linger below $1.10. At the close of trading on Jan. 30, barrel cheese settled at $1.06 per pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange — creating an 11-cent price spread between block and barrel prices.

For the first time in eight years, butter moved into government storage the week of January 19 — largely the result of the government’s butter-powder price tilt late last year that resulted in a 10-cent reduction in the nonfat dry milk support price. Market analysts expect more government purchases under the Commodity Credit Corporation price support program as butter demand remains lackluster and inventories continue to build.

Grade AA butter prices settled at $1.065 per pound at the close of trading on Jan. 30.