Farmers struggle as historic draught diminishes crop yields
More than half of the United States is in one of the worst droughts to hit America in recorded history. Farmers are among those who have suffered the most so far. But fewer crops means higher food prices for all Americans in the months ahead.
More than 50 percent of the United States is under drought conditions, making the current dry spell the largest in more than 50 years, according to a report released Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The current drought is among the 10 largest in the past century, rivaling the one that produced the 1930s Dust Bowl and the prolonged droughts of the 1950s.
About 55 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing moderate to extreme drought conditions at the end of June, according to the report by NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. It was the 14th-warmest and 10th-driest June since recordkeeping began in 1895.
With few signs of rain, the drought has exacted a heavy toll from rural communities across the U.S. More than 1,000 counties throughout the country are eligible for natural disaster area loans. The dry weather has hit farmers especially hard, causing many of their yields to suffer.
Texas-based cattle rancher Pete Bonds says next week he plans to sell the remaining calves he has on a ranch in southeastern Colorado. He had hoped to keep them there until October. But with the price of corn skyrocketing, the price feedyards are willing to pay for new cattle is dropping fast.
"Next week they're going in there and shipping everything," he said. "And we're done. I mean, we're done until next year (when) it rains."
Smaller yields aren't just the concern of farmers. They’ll affect everyone, from the average supermarket consumer to food retailers like General Mills, once food prices go up. But that likely won't happen immediately. Bonds estimates the price of beef will jump in about two years based on this year's drought.
Despite the setbacks he faces, Bonds has kept up his hopes. He says droughts are simply a part of life for Texas farmers.
"We understand and know how to live through them," he said. "Some are worse than others and some are real awful."
But one man's loss is another man's gain, and one of those lucky men is Colorado corn farmer John Harold. Blessed with an irrigated farm, Harold's crop is unscathed. He looks forward to cashing on the rising corn prices.
"We have storage water and so we have reservoirs that are full," he said. "We've been fortunate this year that we are able to irrigate and we do have good crops."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH Radio Boston.