Last year’s historic drought in the southwest gained a lot of attention for its dramatic impact on people, livestock and wildlife. This year’s drought, however, is worse in many ways and likely to be much more expensive to both agriculture and to consumers.
According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, 72 percent of the continental United States is classified as “abnormally dry” or worse. By comparison, at the end of the third week in June last year just 32 percent of the continental United States was classified as “abnormally dry” or worse.
Some meteorologists are already comparing this year to the drought of 1988, which was estimated to cost American agriculture $78 billion.
Last year’s drought had a big impact on the U.S. cattle industry and strained the financial resources of many ranchers. This year’s drought, however, will hit consumers much harder due to the impact it has already had on corn and soybean production. Last week USDA rated 63 percent of the U.S. corn crop as good or better. This week that figure had dropped to 56 percent and agronomists say the crop is deteriorating rapidly.
Grain markets have reacted accordingly. Weather fears have pushed the price of corn up nearly 30 percent over the past two weeks, with $1.50 added to new crop corn in just the past few days. Cattlemen know higher grain prices will pressure feeder cattle prices, and make feedyard profits even harder to achieve. Cattle feeders are already losing an average of $140 to $200 per head.
Weather forecasters believe conditions are in place for prolonged hot and dry weather for much of the Midwest. As a result, crop forecasters are adjusting their estimates for this year’s harvest, and smaller corn and soybean yields mean higher prices for many food items for American consumers.