July 17th, 2012
01:02 PM ET

How the drought could hit your wallet

With more than half the country in some state of drought, farmers are feeling the impact on their livelihood and consumers could expect to feel a hit in their wallet when they go to the supermarket soon, experts say.

The U.S. is facing the largest drought since the 1950s, the National Climatic Data Center reported Monday, saying that about 55% of the country was in at least moderate short-term drought in June for the first time since December 1956, when 58% of the country was in a moderate to extreme drought.

The hot, dry weather in June, which ranked as the third-driest month nationally in at least 118 years, according to the center, made the problem worse.

That has left farmers on the edge of their seat worrying about how much damage their harvests will sustain and how much of their livelihood they may stand to lose this year.

Throughout the Midwest, farmers are seeing signs of damaged crops. In the 18 states that produce most of our corn, only 31% of the crops were rated good or excellent this week, that’s down from 40% last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This same time last year, 66% of corn crops were rated good or excellent. Soybean crops, which can be used in creating diesel fuel, are seeing similar troubles; 34% of the U.S. crop was rated good or excellent, down from 40% last week. This time last year, 64% were in that condition.

Derek Mullin, a farmer from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, told CNN’s Chris Welch that in a good year he can get 200 bushels of corn per acre, but this year he expects that number reduced by 25%.

That lost money will hurt him and his family and he said there is nothing he can do about it.

Is the drought hitting your area? Let us know how you're coping on CNN iReport.

"This is our personal business. It's right at our back door. As soon as we walk out of our house we see our investment and when it goes downhill it does take a toll on you,” he told CNN.  “One of the hardest parts about this is you can do everything just right - planting dates, work hard at putting in a good crop, have a good stand established - and when mother nature works against you, then it all seems like it was for nothing."

Mullin's expected low yield of corn, and similar situations for other farmers, is specifically why this drought is getting a lot of attention, Richard Volpe, an economist with the USDA's Economic Research Service told CNN.

"Corn is a major input for retail food," he said. "Corn is used to make feed for all the animals in our food supply chain. As this drought reduces the harvest of corn, that would drive up the price of feed for animals and then in turn meat products."

The current drought has forced disaster declarations in 26 states and a spate of emergency conservation orders. And experts say it could also lead to serious economic repercussions the same way the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it did during the 1956 drought,  which dropped crop yields about 50% in some areas.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told CNN's Candy Crowley his heart goes out to the producers, ranchers and farmers who are dealing with something they have no control over.

"We’re really not going to know the full extent of all of this until the cotton’s picked, the beans and kernels are counted. But clearly our yields are going to be down.”

And if the crops aren’t there, you can expect to see some differences in the supermarket, Volpe said.

"You would see it first and heaviest for beef, pork, poultry and dairy," Volpe said, explaining that if you can't get the corn to feed animals, the meat market would be hit first and could have the longest-term impact.

Field corn, which is the dominant type of corn affected, is used to create feed for animals, but also corn meal, corn syrup and ethanol. Those products could also take a hit.

But Volpe wants to be clear that there isn't a one-to-one ration when it comes to the price of corn versus what you'll be paying for your meat.

"We understand historically, if the price of field corn goes up by 50%, which is a huge jump, we expect retail food in general to go up by about 1%," he said.

So you likely won't see the doubling of the price of a rib-eye steak, but over time, prices could accumulate.

And when might you expect to see this happen?

"For sure, the full effect of this drought will not be until 2013. It'll be 2013 when we see it and its in the whole supermarket," he said. "But if the price of corn shoots up, we’d see this effect within about two to three months. That doesn’t mean we’ll see a complete jump into food prices. It's just that we should start to see the effects."

Only July 25 the USDA will provide their monthly estimates of food prices, which would factor in drought conditions, Volpe said.

Volpe noted that you could also actually see some short-term lower prices on meat, noting that historically there is a small dip in the price of beef and pork before they start rising.

Ranchers "have these animals on hand, and animals that are market ready," he said. "What they do is figure out, OK well the cost of maintaining this herd in the next few months is going to shoot up because of the rising price of feed, if it make sense to do it now, get the guaranteed money."

Volpe notes that while there are many comparisons being made to the drought in the 1980s and the economic impact it had, it is important to keep in mind how much has changed since then and why that may mean you can't draw an exact correlation to how hard the economy could be hit by this drought. That's something that the agriculture secretary noted too, saying that technology had changed and conditions were different.

"The 1980s were a much different time, average food prices in the '80s were much higher than in recent years," Volpe said. "Fuel prices were much more volatile and the global economy and market for commodities were not as efficient."

While Mullin waits to see just how bad things will get he says that his saving grace, like other farmers, could be having federal crop insurance. But, he added, that only goes so far.

That’s one reason why Mullin, and others in his state, are anxiously waiting to see how state and federal authorities may be able to help.

Mullin said he is hopeful he may hear some answers from a drought conference being led by Iowa’s governor on Tuesday.

Vilsack said the biggest problem is that while the USDA has emergency loans and some other options to help, it lacks the full resources the government needs.

"The real challenge for us is the USDA does not have the tools it once had to help people through this difficult time," Vilsack told CNN.

Vilsack used the drought as an example to plead with the Senate to pass a farm bill that has already cleared the U.S. House of Representative, adding it was not enough to extend a previous bill that expired.  He noted that the 2008 farm bill which expired had provided $4 billion in disaster assistance to 400,000 farmers and ranchers while it existed.

“Just extending the 2008 bill will not revive disaster programs for livestock producers” he said.

– CNN's Chris Welch contributed to this report.

More on the intense heat, drought:

Extreme weather: Get ready to see more of it

Past 12 months warmest ever recorded in U.S.

KCTV: Intense heat take its toll on Shatto's milk supply

WLUK: Christmas tree farmers battle hot, dry conditions

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Filed under: Agriculture • Heat • Weather
soundoff (452 Responses)
  1. wert

    So more processed food for all of us...sigh that should be great.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • rosie

      Ummmm, processed food comes from the fields originally. Or where did you think it came from??

      July 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrBo

      Corn is used for making fuel (oil, ethanol), to food ingredients (corn syrup), to animal feed, to food you directly eat.
      The effects of this drought are more far-reaching than you think.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dubrats

    If you like bacon [and] pork, you should buy it now, because by the fall you are going to be stunned at what it will cost," he wrote in an email.

    In Illinois, the drought has already taken a heavy toll, with more than 80 percent of corn, soybean and other crops considered to be in fair condition or worse. Less than 10 percent of farm fields have adequate topsoil moisture. Farmer Kenny Brummer has lost 800 acres of corn that he grows to feed his 400 head of cattle and 30,000 hogs. Now he's scrambling to find hundreds of thousands of bushels of replacement feed.

    "Where am I going to get that from? You have concerns about it every morning when you wake up," said Brummer, who farms near Waltonville. "The drought is bad, but that's just half of the problem on this farm."

    July 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      If a farmer has 30,000 hogs that he cant feed, wouldn't he butcher them? Wouldn't that bring the price of pork down?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      @Paul....Price wouldn't fall. Slaughtered hogs or pork bellies can be frozen for long periods. Problem is that the more hog feed costs, the higher hog meat sells for. So you don't raise as many hogs? But the demand for Bacon cheeseburgers is still high. So people pay more to clog their arteries!

      July 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. PJ

    Rednecks- thems good eatin'....taste lahk pork....

    July 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JeremyH6

      You – "Silence" because you died from starvation....

      July 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mickey1313

    And these are the repercussions of over population and commercial farming. We are dooming our nation.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. sunny in ak

    Drought won't bother me none, single and no children. Let it dry up, see if I care.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      Wow so you don't eat either...Damn thats pretty impressive....You do realize that corn is also used in a lot more products than just food right? Common products at that! But hey lets talk more about that not eating at all thing...How exactly did you pull that off?

      July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      Sounds like you're lonely and bitter.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • okiejoe

      Wait until water costs more than gasoline. Do you know how much water is needed to make beer or whiskey?

      July 18, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. LK

    We have way too much rain & long cold months here in Oregon. Maybe there needs to be a change in what grows (is raised) where. Meantime, our berry fields were hit with frost earlier this season. Let's switch crops.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. f1fan61

    at least we won't be force fed as much of MONSANTOS'S poison corn.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. james

    another example of how we have become disconnected with our food and reliant on corporate agriculture,
    which relies on GMO's and roundup to make profits. I plan on growing as much of my own food as possible and
    buying from local farmers.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • RandyMarshCT

      I've been doing this for a few years. If everyone grew as much of their own food as possible we would all be in much better shape.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. southernwonder

    we live in strange times. i just read obama is pushing for walmart's entry into a reluctant india. obama justifies that by saying that nearly 50 pct of produce in india perishes unused in their warehoses because they do not have roads and trucks to carry them to market. well, may be we can load this up at the indian coastal areas for no cost.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Anomic Office Drone

    We need to get serious about building infrastructure for the 21st century. A nation that experiences as many droughts as we do should have more water stored.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. OPEN400

    Somehow Fox News will make this an "Obama problem." The FCC should be require Fox news to relabel their news program to be called the GOP Infomercial.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JeremyH6

      And somehow, Obama will blame this on Bush.

      July 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. AtheistHuman

    Ahhh... here we go! The "you will feel it in your wallet" bit. Its funny how they blow things up, and then they do the it will cost you more thing. Never gets old! : |

    July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Logic

    Considering my lawn is dead, I don't need CNN to tell me how it is going to affect my wallet. I got a pretty good idea already.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. barb

    When they had too much rain – it cost us....now they don't have enough rain and it's going to cost us....when there was plenty of feed it was too expensive due to the recession and it cost us...one way or another it's gonna cost us if they can get away with it....

    July 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Frank

      Just hope that this drought doesn't carry over to next year. Then we will definitely start seeing food shortages.

      July 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joan

    This is great news for Obama. it gives him yet another excuse for his lousy job.

    July 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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