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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fairi
X
Brian Padden
May 29, 2015 1:27 PM
With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs