The National Climatic Data Center reported July 16 that about 55 percent of the country was in at least moderate short-term drought in June. June was the third-driest month nationally in the last 118 years, and that dry weather has continued into July.
With drought conditions come concerns about crops, especially corn. The loss of a corn crop is significant because it is used to feed animals and made into a variety of ingredients that are used in an amazingly high percentage of products in the marketplace. (Read this article by Michael Pollan on the subject, for example.) All this to say, corn is embedded into our food system, so a corn crop failure could have an impact on food prices.
In fact, that impact has already started, and corn prices are starting to spike. Jconline.com reported,
“The price of the grain used in food for people and livestock is surging at a time when retail-meat costs already are near record highs. Global food prices are poised to rebound from a 21-month low in June because of weaker-than-expected supply in the U.S., the world’s largest corn exporter, the United Nations, said July 5.
With forecasters including AccuWeather Inc. predicting worsening conditions in the next month, corn traded in Chicago surged by $2.7875 a bushel since mid-June, or 55 percent. The rally is adding to pressure on the livestock industry because cattle feedlots are already losing as much as $200 an animal. Sanderson Farms Inc., the third-largest U.S. poultry producer, said every 10-cent corn increase boosts costs by $2.21 million.”
Don’t think that you'll only have to pay more for your bag of corn chips or frozen corn. Since corn is used to fatten up livestock, meat prices could most definitely get higher. In fact, some farmers are selling their stock rather than pay to feed them at high cost during the drought. Richard Volpe, an economist with the USDA’s Economic Research Service, points out that beef, pork, poultry, and dairy products could see a spike in prices first, and have the longest-term impact from the drought.
My heart goes out to the farmers of failing crops, and I join their hopes and prayers for rain soon.
My hope for this situation (besides rain), is that our farmers will be helped and assisted through this difficult time. But I also hope that long-term strategies are developed to decrease the effect of one crop's failure and for dealing with drought conditions.
According to the EPA, corn and soybeans are the biggest agricultural crops grown in the US. About 80 percent of corn goes to feed, beef, poultry, pork and fish. We certainly aren’t very diversified and without diversity, we are dependent on corn.
Scientists have begun to look to genetically modified crops as a way of dealing with drought conditions. However, one scientist claims that GM crops over-promise.
Why not look to some of the traditional crops of Africa that are well-suited to drought conditions? Crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon peas, groundnuts and chickpeas are both suited for drought conditions, and are nutritious as well. Many of these crops could be used to feed humans and livestock. I'd love to hear some experts talk about crops besides corn to develop and grow in the Midwest.
I try to buy most of my meat from farmers who pasture or grass-feed their stock, so I’d love to hear their viewpoints on what best to do in drought conditions when grass is dying off because of the lack of rain.
It will be interesting to see how conventional farmers and organic farmers branch out in response to drought conditions, if this type of weather continues.
I also wonder — with trepidation — how this could affect poorer countries that depend on U.S. exports. Once again, I am reminded of the dangers posed by simply selling food to others, instead of helping them produce it themselves. In fact, this year’s drought has led talk of another global food crisis.
Meanwhile, I am seriously considering buying extra meat from local farmers to put in my deep freezer. While my beef is 100-percent grass-fed, if prices at the store increase, my farmer's prices could rise with demand as well. The chicken I buy is fed partly with corn and is likely to increase in price.
Let’s hope that the prediction of rain this weekend is a reality.