Get Ready to Feel the Heat of the Drought—in Your Wallet

Prices for corn—the base of the American food pyramid—and soybeans are already starting to rise.
Corn plants are barely surviving on this drought-stricken farm in Indiana. (Scott Olson / Getty)
Jul 18, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

As TakePart reported earlier this week, the worst U.S. drought in decades might cost the economy more than $50 billion.

Reuters backed up this conclusion saying that, “Oppressive heat and a worsening drought in the Midwest pushed grain prices near or past records on Wednesday as crops wilted, cities baked and concerns grew about food and fuel price inflation in the world's top food exporter.”

They went on to note that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said “rising grain prices would mean meat and poultry prices will be higher this year and next, although the inflation may be delayed as farmers start culling their herds due to high feed prices and meat supplies stay adequate.”

MORE: Will Drought Dry Up Obama's Chances?

Climate Central confirmed the worst of Vilsack’s fears saying, “The U.S. is currently in the grips of its worst drought since 1956, with little hope for near-term, widespread drought relief in sight. The drought is having major impacts on agriculture, particularly this year's corn harvest, which is expected to come in significantly lower than initial expectations."

But how could the cost implications of the drought rise so quickly?

Time says that’s why “They call drought the slow motion disaster . . . While earthquakes and volcanoes strike in a moment, and hurricanes unfold over a few days, a drought is simply a day without rain that becomes two days without rain…and then a week…and then a month and then longer. The damage worsens by the hour, but it can take weeks or even months before the effects of drought become visible in cracked soil, stunted crops and dried up lakes. Even then, there’s none of the explosive drama that marks other natural disasters.”

The magazine also observed that “Corn is already above $7 a bushel, and soybeans—another major staple crop used for animal feed and fuel—aren’t far behind . . . Corn is the base of the American food pyramid, used in everything from meat—corn is a staple grain for chickens and cattle—to cereal to even Gatorade and Ring Dings.”

As if all that wasn't sobering enough, when The New York Times asked “Richard Seager, who analyzed historical records and climate model projections for the Southwest for the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, if a perpetual drought was possible there, he replied: ‘You can’t really call it a drought because that implies a temporary change. The models show a progressive aridification. You don’t say, ‘The Sahara is in drought.’ It’s a desert. If the models are right, then the Southwest will face a permanent drying out.’”

Oh, and there's one more bit of bad news.

On Tuesday, Think Progress said, “While it has been hotter than the 1930s in many places in this country, the drought hasn’t been quite as bad as the worst of the original Dust Bowl. But if we don’t act soon to slash greenhouse gas emissions, we are on our way to far worse as climate change fuels more frequent and more extreme droughts across the U.S.”

And that, my friends, will be a true slow-motion disaster.

Do you think the government should be doing more to help out our farmers? Tell us in the COMMENTS.

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Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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