Drought Taking Toll on Corn, Soybean Farmers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) -- It’s been 56 years since the U.S. last experienced a drought as bad as the one this year. And according to an Agriculture Department report released today, the drought has drastically reduced production estimates for corn and soybean.

Corn production is down 13 percent from 2011. Based on conditions as of August 1, yields are expected to average 123.4 bushels per acre, down 23.8 bushels from 2011. If realized, this will be the lowest average yield since 1995.

“Corn is important,” said Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Economic Solutions, a commodity and economics consultancy in Omaha. “In a normal year, corn is more than half of all the corps we produce in the U.S.  So when we have a bad corn crops it affects virtually all food products that the average American consumes.

“When corn sneezes, other commodities catch a cold.”

So what does this mean for the consumer? In the short term, not much, said Erin Lash, a senior equity analyst with Morningstar, in Chicago. Lash doesn’t think the high prices will trickle down to the grocery store, at least not over the next few weeks and months.

“Consumer product firms tend to hedge their costs or make commitments to buy at a particular cost for several months in advance,” said Lash. “As a result, the higher commodity prices that we’re seeing now–and that could persist in light of the challenging weather conditions that we’ve had this summer in the U.S. cornbelt– in general won’t impact these firms for a few quarters.”

Longer term, the outlook is more bleak. According to Lapp, over the next year, the price of vegetable oil will most likely increase. So will the price of wheat, rice, oat and barley.

“By having higher prices for the major agriculture commodities, we have imposed a $30 billion dollar tax on the US consumer,” he said.  “Spread out, that will add about 4 and a half percent to the average American consumer food bill.”

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