Rising Temperatures Raising Food Prices

Increasing climate temperatures are responsible for the deterioration of crops and a global surge in the cost of food.


| August 8, 2012



Corn

The U.S. corn crop accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global harvest.


Photo By Fotolia/Merryl

This article is posted with permission from the Earth Policy Institute.  

Over the last two months, the price of corn has been climbing. On July 19, it exceeded $8 per bushel for the first time, taking the world into a new food price terrain with heat and drought still smothering the Corn Belt. We may well see more all-time highs in coming weeks as the extent of crop damage becomes clearer.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. This spring farmers planted a record 96 million acres of corn. An early spring got the crop off to a great start, leading the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to project the largest corn harvest in history.

On June 12, the USDA projected the U.S. harvest would hit a record 376 million tons. But the drought conditions that had initially been confined to the country’s southwest began to spread and intensify. In its next monthly report on July 11, the USDA reduced its projection to 329 million tons of corn, down by 12 percent or 47 million tons. This was a huge drop in only one month. Yet in the end the actual decline may be closer to 30 percent, or roughly 100 million tons — double the USDA estimated drop. (See data.)

Because the USDA is overestimating the harvest, it is underestimating the food price rise in the months ahead. Even as corn prices are setting all-time highs, so too are soybean prices, putting still more upward pressure on food prices.

There are several reasons for the large reduction in the harvest estimate. One is record high temperatures. Nationwide, the first half of this year was the hottest on record. Thousands of record daily temperature highs were set locally. In St. Louis, which is in the southern part of the U.S. Corn Belt, in late June and early July there were 10 consecutive days with temperatures of 100 to 108 degrees.





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