The severe drought in the US has been blamed the rising prices of agricultural commodities. But that is only part of the story: Biofuels, financial speculation and changing dietary habits are also playing a role. The global food supply faces pressure from all sides.
Farmer Mike Geske speaks with the experience of generations. “Every major drought has its very own character,” he says. It’s a lesson derived from his family history. His grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, established a farm in Matthews, Missouri, and his father expanded it. Both related to Geske, now 62, several stories about droughts and what they did to keep the farm going.
This year’s severe drought, says Geske, has been unusually long and hot. “It started in May of last year. First it rained like crazy. But then, suddenly, it was as if someone had turned off the water,” says Geske.
The land around Matthews is as flat as a board. Geske, together with his son and two employees, farms 850 hectares (1,870 acres). The corn harvest began last week — and the cobs don’t look good, even the ones from those plants Geske has been able to irrigate. The kernels are small and there are wide gaps between them.
It is the same story across the American Midwest, which is experiencing its worst drought since the 1930s. One-sixth of the corn crop has been lost and the soybean plants and wheat stalks don’t look much better. Shortages and rising prices for essential commodities are the result.
Some prices have soured by almost 50 percent within just 10 weeks, and grain warehouses are beginning to empty out. Other important supplier countries also anticipate poor harvests. Because of a prolonged dry period in Russia, wheat exports are expected to be only half of what they were last year. Brazil, on the other hand, has had too much rain, which is bad news for sugar-cane farmers. “The latest crop predictions suggest that we should fear the worst,” the United Nations World Food Programme warned last week. It is the third such warning in recent years, following similar crises in 2008 and 2011. Catastrophe, it would seem, is becoming the norm.