US says food prices to soar due to drought

The Department of Agriculture predicts an above-normal food price inflation in 2013 as drought hits half of the US.

US Drought
The drought has sent corn, soybean and other commodity prices soaring in recent weeks as fields dry out [EPA]

The record drought gripping half the US will help push food prices up by 3 per cent to 4 per cent next year, the Department of Agriculture had said.

“In 2013 as a result of this drought we are looking at above-normal food price inflation. … Consumers are certainly going to feel it,” USDA economist Richard Volpe said on Wednesday.

Milk, eggs, beef, poultry and pork prices will all be affected by the drought, which has pushed up prices for feed. Beef prices are expected to see the biggest jump at 4 per cent to 5 per cent.

Dairy product prices are forecast to climb 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent; poultry and egg prices are projected to rise 3 per cent to 4 per cent; and pork prices are expected to rise 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent in 2013, the agency said.

The figures are the agency’s first food price projections to factor in the drought, though farmers and others have been warning that prices will rise. The drought has sent corn, soybean and other commodity prices soaring in recent weeks as fields dry out and crops wither across much of the country’s midsection.

Volpe said the drought is not expected to affect prices for fruits and vegetables. Most of those crops are irrigated. The USDA is projecting an overall 2 per cent to 3 per cent increase for all fruits and vegetables next year, the same as it expects this year.

USDA economists were aware of the drought a month ago when they did their last projections but didn’t know how bad it would get, Volpe said.

“This drought was a surprise for everybody,” Volpe said. “The USDA was forecasting a record year for the corn crop until this drought materialized. Now we’re not going to get that.”

Scott Shellady, a commodities trader in Chicago, said the situation with the corn crop could affect other countries as well because US food exports have increased dramatically in the last couple of decades.

“So we have an issue here where we have been feeding the world, but we’re going to have to slowly but surely dampen down those exports,” Shellady said.