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Midwest drought worsens, threatening food prices

July 26, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • A field of dead corn sits next to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant in Palestine, Ill.
A field of dead corn sits next to the Lincolnland Agri-Energy ethanol plant… (Scott Olson / Getty Images )

The drought that has gripped the gut of the United States is intensifying and shows no signs of lessening, according to a report released Thursday.

The latest map of the United States and Puerto Rico reflects that 53.44% of the land is now in moderate drought or worse, up from 53.17% the week before, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Severe drought or worse is reported in 38.11% of the country, up in a week from 35.32%; extreme drought or worse is reported in 17.2% of the land, compared with 11.32% the week before.

When just the continental United States is measured, more than 63% of the area is in some state of drought, the highest figure since the Monitor was started in 1999.

PHOTOS: Severe U.S. drought

“We’ve seen tremendous intensification of drought through Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska, and into part of Wyoming and South Dakota in the last week,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and U.S. Drought Monitor author.

“This drought is two-pronged,” Fuchs said. “Not only the dryness but the heat is playing a big and important role. Even areas that have picked up rain are still suffering because of the heat.”

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 55% of the nation’s pasture and range land is now in poor to very poor condition, breaking last week’s record. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 76 additional counties in six states as drought disaster areas, bringing the total for the 2012 crop year to 1,369 counties across 31 states.

More than two dozen large wildfires were burning – most in the West but several in the Plains.

One of the questions is: What will be the impact of the drought for consumers?

“In 2013, as a result of this drought, we are looking at above-normal food price inflation.... Consumers are certainly going to feel it,” the Department of Agriculture said this week. It is projecting a price inflation of between 3% to 4% -- higher than the usual annual rate of about 2.8%.

Milk, eggs, beef, poultry and pork prices will all probably go up because feed will be in shorter supply. Traditionally, dairy products are the first to feel price increases, but that can take months.

Beef prices could even drop initially as farmers liquidate their herds because of the rising price of feed.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 350 drought observers across the country. It is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday.

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Join Michael on Google+. Email: michael.muskal@latimes.com


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