Monday, November 26, 2012

Drought still on, threatening winter wheat; hurts food banks; look for higher food prices soon

As some areas of the country slowly recover from this summer's drought, some other areas still struggle as drought becomes more severe. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Drought Monitor, below, shows more than 60 percent of the U.S. is experiencing some level of drought, with almost one-fifth in extreme or exceptional drought.
"The U.S. hard red winter wheat crop is in bad shape," Ken Anderson of Brownfield Ag News reports. USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey told Anderson the crop "got off to a rough start" because of drought, especially from Kansas to Texas where there's been no rain since October. "The crop is really in dire straits," he said, added that prospects for improvement aren't very good because precipitation will be sparse in the coming weeks. "We need a pattern change. We need a couple of big storms. We need some snowfall to bring back this winter wheat crop from the brink of disaster."

The drought increased food export prices and left farmers with less excess crops than usual, which means the federal government isn't buying as much excess and isn't donating as much to food banks. The USDA usually budgets to buy excess, or bonus, commodities for emergency food assistance programs, Annie Gowen of The Washington Post reports. Bonus commodities provide food banks with steady donations, but they have decreased to 371 million pounds this year, down from 500 million in 2010.

Consumers will start to see higher prices on meat and dairy by the end of the year, and on other items by mid-2013 because the drought "hit crops fundamental to America's food supply,"  reports Christianna McCausland of The Christian Science Monitor. Corn is found in about 74 percent of all food consumed in the U.S., and is used as livestock feed, and because there was so little of it available this summer, prices skyrocketed.

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