The heavy toll of the summer drought on American crops

The heavy toll of the summer drought on American crops

The heavy toll of the summer drought on American crops

It was a bad year for corn. And for the tomatoes. And for many other American crops.

Farmers, agricultural economists, and others taking stock of this summer’s growing season say drought conditions and extreme weather have devastated many row crops, fruits and vegetables, with the American Farm Bureau Federation suggesting that crops they could decrease by a third from last year.

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American corn is on track to produce its lowest yield since the 2012 drought, according to analysts at Rabobank, which collects data on commodity markets. This year’s hard red winter wheat crop was the smallest since 1963, analysts at the bank said. In Texas, cotton farmers have given up nearly 70 percent of their crop because the harvest is so paltry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California’s rice crop is half what it would be in a normal year, one industry group said.

The poor yields are likely more than a year old, as climate change alters weather patterns in agriculturally important parts of the country, contributing to higher food prices that experts don’t see falling anytime soon.

Drought has consumed 40 percent of the country in the past 101 weeks, USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey said. But precisely where that 40% is, it has moved over time, which means that different areas of the country’s farmland have been hit at different times, spreading pain and difficult choices geographically and by crop.

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“Spring wheat, durum wheat, barley [in the Northeast] – those were just hammered in 2021. For some of these crops it was the lowest yield we’ve seen since the 1980s, “Rippey said.” The biggest impact this year was the central and southern Great Plains – Nebraska southward through Texas – and the two major crops affected this year are grain sorghum [primarily used for animal feed] and cotton “.

Based on last month’s numbers, he said, it appears that the abandonment of the Texas cotton crop will be the highest on record, around 69%: “That’s when the farmers leave.”

In California, farmers are making tough choices to give up strawberries and tomatoes, lettuce and melons, so that the water they get goes to crops like almonds, grapes and olives, where they have sunk multi-year investments and the payoff is better. said Rippey.

Even with recent rains, much of the western United States is still experiencing a long-term drought, said Curtis Riganti, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center. “We are seeing extreme and exceptional drought widespread in California’s Central Valley, parts of Nevada, central and southern Oregon, central High Plains, southern Oklahoma and Texas,” he said. “And while this year we have seen quite an active monsoon season in New Mexico, Arizona and southern Colorado, in terms of reservoir filling it’s not doing much good.”

Every August for the past 30 years, a group of agricultural experts and volunteer farmers in the Midwest jump into their cars and convey to seven states, a benchmark for the USDA’s ongoing forecast of annual crops.

The USDA lowered its corn forecast last month due to the drought this summer. But the Pro Farmer Crop Tour, which concluded on August 25, found that the corn yield was even worse than that reduced expectation. Field inspectors also found that the quality of the corn had suffered from heat and drought, with cobs carrying small kernels and many suffering from “tipping” when the kernels are missing from the outer edge.

Wheat took a hit this year, with rains preventing spring planting after a prolonged weather pattern in La Niña meant several years of warmer, drier weather in key production areas.

The drought is also having a dramatic effect on California rice, which is grown primarily in the Sacramento Valley. The state, which grows medium-grain rice such as sushi rice, has about half a normal year’s production, said Katie Cahill, a spokesperson for the California Rice Commission. Many growers have decided to blame their fields and sell their water to perennial crops like almonds to cover their losses.

The federal government operates a system of dams, reservoirs, and canals in California that the state relies on for agriculture and drinking water. Water agencies contract with the federal government for certain quantities of water each year. The federal government fulfills contracts based on the amount of water available. This year, as the state’s mega drought dragged on into its third year, the government said it had no water to give to farmers.

Last summer was a disappointment for tomato growers, said Aaron Barcellos, partner of A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Firebaugh, Fresno County, California, “and we’re still in a worse water situation than last summer.” .

“River water has also been reduced. Other crops are competing for the same water, other crops having better yields,” he said. On her own farm, she reduced from 2,000 acres of tomatoes in 2020 to 900 last year. This year it only has 530 acres of canned tomatoes.

“Some of that land went to garlic and Pima cotton, the rest went fallow,” he said. Contracts with canneries are negotiated before the season starts, so an exceptionally tough year leaves growers in a financial hole. “We have contracts and those prices aren’t feasible now. A lot of growers are leaving the tomato industry because of the last few years,” Barcellos said.

The USDA recently estimated that the tomato harvest this year will be 10.5 million tons, more than one million tons less than in a normal season, which will be reflected in the prices of pizza, spaghetti sauce and ketchup next year.

Harvesting of the new potato crop is underway, and Rabobank analysts say the area harvested is expected to decrease by 4% from last year (and last year’s harvest was a decade low). Its analysts also said year-to-date carrot shipments fell by 45%, sweet corn by 20%, sweet potatoes by 13% and celery by 11%, all indications of shortages. And according to the USDA, total peach production is down 15% from 2021, mostly due to California’s small crop.

One bright spot is soybeans. Gro Intelligence’s modeling put a total forecast for soy at 4.30 billion bushels, less than the USDA’s 4.53 billion bushels but slightly higher than last year.

But the bad news extends to livestock, portending bad news for next year’s beef prices. When the weather is dry and hot, there isn’t enough natural feed to go around. To support a herd, ranchers must bring hay and feed prices skyrocket, prompting ranchers to sell their animals a little early, and often to sell heifers, young females, rather than keeping them as a herd, Sarah said. Little, spokesperson for the North American Meat Institute, a trade association. This has resulted in lower beef prices for consumers in the short term, but signals that supply is likely to be tighter next year.

A recent Farm Bureau survey found that the largest herd decline is in Texas (reportedly down 50%), followed by New Mexico (down 43%) and Oregon (down 41%), largely partly due to scarcity of fodder and water, which disrupts income operations for farmers.

“Producers are particularly affected because the costs of food, fuel and fertilizer have risen, so although they are getting record prices for livestock, inflation has hurt their income,” Little said.

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