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

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

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.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs