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 Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid