Food crisis fears rise as drought sends food prices soaring


Corn plants struggle to survive in a drought-stricken farm field on July 19, 2012 near Oakton, Indiana. The corn and soybean belt in the middle of the nation is experiencing one of the worst droughts in more than five decades. Indiana was the nation's fourth largest corn producer in 2011.


Scott Olson

The US Department of Agriculture said the worst drought in half a century is expected to drive up the price of milk, beef and pork next year, according to The New York Times.

Some food prices, like chicken and turkey, are expected to rise as early as this fall.

"The poultry category is the smallest animal category, and we expect to see more of an effect this year because they grow the fastest and will be first to be impacted by higher feed prices," said Richard Volpe, an economist with the USDA.

The data, released on Wednesday, shows increases in beef, dairy, eggs and pork in 2013.

"It can take up to nine months for rises in agricultural commodity prices to filter through into higher food prices in the stores," said Paul Dales, senior US economist at Capital Economics Ltd., according to Bloomberg.

Meteorologists are predicting that conditions behind the drought will continue, putting crops at risk and raising food prices as well as the specter of a food crisis, according to Al Jazeera.

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The Guardian noted that early this spring farmers planted 96 million acres of corn, the most in 75 years. A warm spring helped the crop, but the scorching heat and drought conditions of summer have ensured only 26 percent of the crop is rated good to excellent.

Al Jazeera noted that corn is a "mega-crop" involved in the production of everything from meat to cereal and fuel.

The US is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the Guardian noted. Corn accounts for four-fifths of the US grain harvest and exceeds China's rice and wheat harvests combined. Corn prices have increased by nearly one half since the beginning of June and reached an all-time high in mid-July, said the Guardian.

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The US Department of Agriculture predicts a sharp drop in corn exports, with prices for corn and soy beans already reaching record highs, said Al Jazeera.

The government said 88 percent of the corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop has been affected by the drought, according to The Times.

Lester R. Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, wrote for the Guardian, noting that world stocks of grain will fall further near the end of this year, worsening an already precarious global food situation.

"The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening," he said.