News / USA

Analysts: Southwestern US Drought Might Raise Global Food Prices

Aftermath of a fire in Texas (file photo)
Aftermath of a fire in Texas (file photo)

As wildfires burn across the drought-stricken state of Texas, farmers and ranchers there and across the southwestern United States are facing devastating livestock and crop losses. Analysts say the effect could ripple across the U.S. and world economies.  And there is no assurance that the dry spell will end any time soon.

In several southwestern and midwestern states, experts are describing the damage to agriculture from this year's drought as the worst in decades. In Texas, officials estimate there have been more than $5 billion in losses so far. Many ranchers in Texas, America's largest beef-producing state, have had to sell off their herds for lack of feed and water.

Texas is also the nation's biggest producer of sorghum and a major producer of sugar cane, peanuts, grapefruit, oranges, carrots and melons - all of which have been hit by the drought.  Drought has also crippled grain crops like wheat and corn in states like Oklahoma and Kansas.  

Economist Bernard Weinstein at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, says these losses will be felt far and wide.

“Not only will this affect consumers in the United States, but to the extent that there is less food -- particularly grain available for export - that will have an impact on the global markets because America is the world's number one exporter of food,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein notes that the drought has also damaged important non-food crops like cotton, which is a major e xport.  Texas provides about half of the cotton produced annually in the United States and nearly half of the fields planted in the state this year had to be abandoned for lack of water.

Weinstein says the dry spell is also having an impact on another important industry in Texas and nearby states - energy.  Many companies extract oil and gas trapped in shale formations deep underground by pumping in water that Weinstein says is getting harder to obtain.

“When you use the technology of hydraulic fracturing to get oil and gas out of shale formations, you use millions of gallons of water.  And there is a concern right now that with farmers and cities competing for water that there may not be enough water around to sustain the oil and gas industry,” Weinstein said.

Even more worrisome for Texans is the possibility that the drought will extend into next year.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs of The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska cautions that North America rain patterns are affected by a periodic cooling of Pacific Ocean waters, known as La Niña.

“You are always going to have wetter periods and drier periods.  But what La Niña really does is block those storm systems from reaching the southern part of the country.”

Fuchs says atmospheric changes caused by La Niña move the jet stream higher, which keeps rain storms from reaching the southern plains.  He says La Niña events typically last one year, but that it is possible this one will extend into next year.

“Earlier this summer, there was only about a 10 percent chance of La Niña reestablishing itself this fall and winter.  And over the last month or two, that has been up to a 50-50 chance.  If we go back and look at some of the historical La Niña events that are on record, especially the stronger ones, more often than not they are followed up the second winter with another La Niña episode.  But usually, it is a little bit weaker,” Fuchs said.

Another dry year would set back farmers and ranchers in this region even further and increase the likelihood of more devastating wildfires.  Since the beginning of the year, fires have raged across dry prairies in western and central Texas, and forests full of dry, dead trees in eastern Texas.  Several large fires in the area between Houston and the Texas capital Austin in recent days have driven thousands of people to public shelters and burned hundreds of houses.

But Economist Bernard Weinstein points out that the fires might also have some positive effect on the economy. “When you start to spend money to compensate for losses in a natural disaster, like these grass fires, that can actually be stimulative to the economy and create some jobs.  We saw something similar happen after [Hurricane] Katrina hit New Orleans six years ago.  There was a huge influx of both insurance money and public assistance that has gone to rebuild the New Orleans economy,” Weinstein said.

Although no one would wish for such disasters merely for their economic stimulative effect, it could provide at least something in return for all of the suffering and loss.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs