Searing drought threatens more than corn
The Midwest is baking — with no real relief in sight. Just take a look at this latest map detailing the drought gripping the U.S. and the red-hot outlook for the next couple months.
The consequences are tremendous, as numerous media outlets are reporting. Among the key concerns:
**** The largest corn crop in generations – lauded just weeks ago for its projected bounty -- is withering by the hour.
The New York Times reports that some farmers in Illinois and Missouri have given up on parched and stunted fields, mowing them over. In at least nine states, conditions in one-fifth to one-half of cornfields have been deemed poor or very poor. From The Times:
Crop insurance agents and agricultural economists are watching closely, a few comparing the situation with the devastating drought of 1988, when corn yields shriveled significantly, while some farmers have begun alluding, unhappily, to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Far more is at stake in the coming pivotal days: with the brief, delicate phase of pollination imminent in many states, miles and miles of corn will rise or fall on whether rain soon appears and temperatures moderate.
“It all quickly went from ideal to tragic,” said Don Duvall, a farmer in Illinois who, in what was a virtually rainless June, has watched two of his cornfields dry up and die as others remain in some uncertain in-between.
“Every day that passes, more corn will be abandoned,” Mr. Duvall said. “But even if it starts raining now, there will not be that bumper crop of corn everyone talked about.”
For farmers, especially those without insurance, the pressure mounts, they say, with each check on the morning weather forecast, with every stifling walk through a cloudless field. But the worries have quickly spread: corn prices have risen on the Chicago Board of Trade in recent days on the likelihood of a smaller crop, as analysts weigh the broader prospect of rising prices for food and effects on ethanol production.
“You wake up every morning with that churning in your stomach,” said Eric Aulbach, a farmer here in central Indiana, who gazed out across a field of corn he ought not to be able to gaze across by now.
Still, the Times noted that some experts say it may not be as bad as all that. They note that the driest, hottest conditions have steered clear of some crucial Corn Belt states, including western Iowa, the nation’s most prolific corn producer.
**** As U.S. crops suffer, concerns rise about world food prices … and that can lead to global unrest.
Global food prices are expected to climb in the near-term, bucking a recent downward trend, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Thursday.
Bloomberg reported that a failed crop in the U.S., the world’s biggest exporter of corn and wheat, would raise food costs and stifle the U.S. farm boom that has been built on growing overseas shipments. If prices keep rising, that could mean trouble elsewhere around the globe, where failed crops can mean failed states. From the article:
In 2010 a drought that withered Russia’s wheat crop sent consumer prices in North Africa and the Middle East skyward, contributing to unrest that fed the Arab Spring. More than 60 food riots occurred worldwide between 2007 and 2009, when rapidly rising commodity prices wreaked havoc on family budgets, especially in poorer countries, where 70 percent of a household’s income may go to food. An extended U.S. drought would have a “tremendous” impact on world food prices, as a higher cost for one dollar-denominated export crop cascaded into others, says Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization in Rome.
“The world looks to the U.S. as the safest source of supply,” he says. “Everyone watches the U.S. because they can rely on it. Without it, the world would starve.”
Bloomberg points out that the U.S. isn’t the only place with problems. Early season dryness again threatens to wither Russia’s wheat, and the worst start to India’s monsoon season in three years is endangering crops.
**** Farm revenue is at severe risk as well.
The 2012 drought could be taking a greater toll on Corn Belt agriculture than just withered corn and soybean fields, burned up pasture, and non-productive hay fields. The Drovers Network reported that the the expected diminished yields will result in a severe financial impact:
Some farmers may have adequate crop insurance, some may have inadequate crop insurance, and some may not have crop insurance at all. If early hedges or forward contracts had been made, revenue erosion could be going further downhill, and that all leads to another very significant problem.
In the past few days, two prominent ag economists have addressed the issue of farm revenue in the wake of the drought. Chris Hurt at Purdue said, “Farmers face a double whammy if the drought persists, Hurt said. On one hand, they could fail to produce enough crops to meet their contractual obligations. On the other, they could lose additional revenue if prices rise above their locked-in rate.” A few days later University of Illinois ag economist Gary Schnitkey said, “Farms that do not have crop insurance at high coverage levels are more at risk for low incomes. However, price increases may offset some of potential decreases in yields. This offset assumes that not much of the 2012 crop has been already priced at what could turn out to be lower prices than during the fall of 2012. As a result, farms that did not purchase crop insurance and have hedged a great deal of the 2012 crop are particularly at risk for lower incomes in 2012.”
The potential economic fallout is serious enough that the Drovers Network cautioned readers to be on the lookout for signs of depression and suicidal behavior in stressed farmers.