Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Record heat wave devastates US corn and soy crops, drives food prices higher

Jaelithe Judy in Care 2: As a record heat wave baked the earth across the Midwestern United States this month, farmers in America’s bread basket looked on their bone dry fields and wilting crops with growing dread. This past June was the tenth driest on record in the U.S., creating severe drought conditions across several states, and the 10-day spell of unusual, unrelenting heat from the end of June through the first week of July significantly increased the stress on food crops already damaged by drought, including much of the nation’s corn and soy supply.

The United States is the world’s foremost producer of corn, one of the world’s most important food crops. Originally domesticated in Mexico, corn thrives in ordinary summer heat, and it can withstand occasional high daytime temperatures. But the temperatures during this heat wave were anything but ordinary for North America at this time of the year. With temperatures 10-20 degrees above average, the heat wave toppled more than 3,800 all-time records nationwide. Many areas experienced more than a week straight of daytime temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and nighttime temperatures that failed to fall below the 80s.

...As a consequence of weeks of serious drought followed by severe high temperatures, U.S. corn farmers may be facing one of the worst crop losses in history. Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that heat and drought have significantly damaged the corn crop in 18 states, and nearly a third of the corn in those states is now rated in poor or very poor condition. Nationwide, only 40 percent of the corn crop is considered by the USDA to be in good condition.

Soybeans, too, have suffered during this season’s prolonged high temperatures. Monday fears of a significantly damaged 2012 crop pushed soy prices to an all-time record high.

Because the U.S. exports staple food crops to many other countries, the consequences of this year’s record-breaking hot dry summer will almost certainly push food prices higher not just within the country, but worldwide, for the rest of the year....

A scorched corn field near Jonesville, Louisiana, this one from August 2008, shot by Billy Hathorn, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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