Food Prices Expected To Rise Next Year Due To Drought
It’s been really hot and dry this year here in Middle America. The thermometer will crack 100 at least once a year it seems like, but I’ve never seen sustained 100+ temps like this before. Fortunately we’ve had some rain in the past couple of days, but it seems like it’s been months since we’ve had any substantial precipitation. We had a dry fall and very little snowfall this winter as well. My CSA farmer has said that he’s spending about 20-30 additional hours of work each week in order to keep everything watered. I know I’ve been having to water my garden almost daily to keep up with the heat. Recently my wife got on me for not replacing the water barrel this year. I don’t feel too bad about this considering we haven’t really had any rain to collect.
Drought conditions can be monitored at this website: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ . Things are pretty bad here in the Midwest, Great Plains and especially in the Southern Illinois/Indiana/Kentucky area. On our way to Cornerstone this year through Illinois I noticed that the corn didn’t look so hot.
So anyways, we produce a lot of corn and soybeans in this region. Corn and soy is in just about EVERYTHING in our commercial food system, one way or another. Not only do we eat these things directly, we feed them to the livestock we consume and also turn corn and soy into oils that show up on many an ingredient list. Then there’s the notorious high fructose corn syrup that is included as a sweetener in a ton of products. Oh, and then there’s the industrial uses like soy ink, corn alcohol (as a fuel and recreational purposes) and other biofuels.
So when the supply of these things go down and demand will stay the same, prices will increase. When prices of such basic things increase, the cost gets passed on to the final consumer. Even if (or “as?”) the government steps in with loans to the farmers, this cost is passed off on the taxpayers one way or another. You just can’t get around these kinds of things. The number being thrown around right now is that food prices will increase an addition 3-5%.
This situation unfolding before us brings up a lot of questions about our food system. Are we too dependent on these crops as a nation and too dependent on them as a region economically? If we had a more varied diet as a nation, would a decline in soy/corn production matter as much? If we decided to do something other than monocropping soy and corn in the Midwest, would we still be left with our proverbial dicks in the wind if something happened (like a drought) that hindered the production of these crops? I believe we would be better off with a varied diet geared more towards local/seasonal production (read about Cuba for some of the benefits of this arrangement) and an agricultural system that placed an emphasis on providing for their local areas, instead of focusing on solely commodity crops to be shipped all around the world.
I’m not going to suggest that we should only eat things locally grown. I like things like coffee, chocolate, bananas, citrus, vanilla, tea and cinnamon, just to name a few, that I can’t get locally. I also think it’s a good thing that since we’re having tough times here in the Midwest, we can procure grains from other parts of the world where it might be business as usual. I do think we would be better off if we tweaked our diets to move away from the dependency on monoculture crops and I’ll suggest doing that.
This week we had the day with the highest water consumption ever and Water Works urged everyone to conserve water. I know the stuff seems to magically flow through the tap at the turn of a handle rain or shine, but with as low as water levels are getting due to lack of precipitation, this is a real problem. When there’s less water from the sky there’s a need from more from the tap, which comes from sources that aren’t getting replenished because there’s none coming from the sky. It’s a vicious circle.
Ok, so let’s talk about the things we can do going forward –
– Support small-scale agriculture. These guys are feeling the drought too, but their operations are typically more flexible with climatic conditions and generally have more sustainable practices.
– If you’re into bulk storage, it might not be a bad idea to stock up on some of the commodity items you would typically use like wheat, beans, oats, pasta, corn, rice, etc. We just recently upped ours a bit.
– Stocking up on the non-perishables you typically eat is a good idea too, because they’ll end up going up in prices as well. It makes sense to pay less now if you have the room to store it. If you don’t, I’m sure you can make some room for food storage in closets, under the bed, get rid of some useless stuff taking up space, etc.
– Practice water conservation.
– If you have a deep freeze, buying meat in bulk now probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
– It’s a good idea to expand your diet a little bit and learn how to use some different things in order to be able to roll with the punches better – instead of only having certain things you eat all the time, it’s good to be able to know how to work with other products that you might be able to get if your usual items are scarce/expensive. For example, let’s say you make tacos every week with beef. If beef goes up, you can stretch it with beans or TVP (or just go straight vegetarian that night) or maybe use less-expensive ground turkey. On this note, knowing how to make vegetarian dishes is a good skill to have that will undoubtedly save you some money over time.
Before I sign off for the night, I’ll add that when the government tells you something, it’s usually sugar-coated. Price increases could be higher than the 3-5% figure being thrown out there.