U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” a Sunday morning news program, and told host by Candy Crowley that the widespread drought should not increase food prices until next year.
“We’re not going to know the full extent of this drought until the cotton is picked, the beans and kernels are counted,” Vilsack said. “But we’re still going to be able to meet the food needs of the country, still export and produce energy.
On Monday the National Climatic Data Center called the current drought the largest since the 1950s. The center said about 55 percent of the country was in at least moderate short-term drought in June for the first time since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was in a moderate to extreme drought.
Crowley noted that drought is affecting 1,000 counties in 26 states, or 61 percent of the nation. She also cited recent government reports that 30 percent of the corn in 18 key producing states is classified as “poor” or “very poor” condition. “In many instances, food prices are already up by 30 percent,” she said.
Vilsack responded that food prices should not be increasing at this time due to the drought. “If folks are using this opportunity and raising prices inappropriately, shame on them,” he said. “It takes a long time for prices to work through the system.” He indicated the impact of this year’s drought should not have an impact on food prices until 2013.
Vilsack also made the point that farmers and ranchers receive an average of just 14 cents of every dollar consumers spend on food. Vilsack said that food prices are often more influenced by energy costs.
During the interview, Vilsack urged the Senate to pass the farm bill that has already cleared the U.S. House of Representative. He said it was important to pass the new bill and not just extend the 2008 farm bill.
“Just extending the 2008 bill will not revive disaster programs for livestock producers” and other options that USDA has to assist producers facing disasters. Vilsack noted that the 2008 farm bill has provided $4 billion in disaster assistance to 400,000 farmers and ranchers over the course of the program.