Dead Crops, Extreme Drought And Endless Wildfires Are Now The New Normal In America

As you read this, the United States is experiencing the worst drought it has seen since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.  As you read this, nearly half of all corn crops in the United States are in “poor” or “very poor” condition.  As you read this, 38 major wildfires are ripping across the central and western United States.  The brutal wildfires in Oklahoma have been so bad that they have made national headlines.  The price of corn has hit a brand new record high this summer and so has the price of soybeans.  More than half of all the counties in this country have been declared to be “natural disaster areas” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at this point.  Things are so bad for ranchers that the CEO of Smithfield Foods is projecting that meat prices will rise by “significant double digits” in the months ahead.  Sadly, this drought is projected to continue throughout August and into September.  As you will read about below, some meteorologists are even openly postulating that there may not be enough moisture to avoid another drought next year.  Yes, things are really bad this year, but when you step back and take a look at the broader picture they become truly frightening.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of July 31st close to two-thirds of the continental United States was experiencing at least some level of drought….

Keep in mind that brown is “severe drought”, red is “extreme drought” and dark brown in “exceptional drought”.

This is truly a historic drought.  We have never seen anything like this in modern times in the United States.

The week before, this is how the U.S. Drought Monitor described conditions in the center of the country….

“Over 90 percent of the topsoil was short or very short of moisture in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, with virtually all (99 percent) short or very short in Missouri and Illinois”

There had been some hope that rain would bring relief to farmers in the central part of the country, but instead things just keep getting worse and worse.

At this point, close to half of all corn being grown in the U.S. is either in “poor” or “very poor” condition.

For ranchers, the outlook is even more dismal.  The following is from a recent CNN article….

Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s cattle acreage is now inside a drought-stricken area, as is about two-thirds of the country’s hay acreage, the agency reported.

What that means is that a lot of animals are being slaughtered now and the price of meat is going to be moving substantially higher later in the year.

The following is what the CEO of Smithfield Foods, Larry Pope, recently told the Financial Times….

Beef is simply going to be too expensive to eat. Pork is not going to be too far behind. Chicken is catching up fast. Are we really going to take protein away from Americans?

He also told the Financial Times that he expects meat prices to rise by “significant double digits”.

Those are very frightening statements.

The CEO of a major food company says that beef is going to “be too expensive to eat”?

That doesn’t sound good at all.

Meanwhile, this drought is absolutely devastating farmers and ranchers all over the United States….

“When I was a kid in the ’50s … it got real dry, but nothing like this,” said Marvin Helms, a 70-year-old farmer and rancher in central Arkansas who was compelled to sell his beef cattle after being short on feed.

His thousand acres of farmland near Arkadelphia include corn and soybeans, which Helms says is normally sufficient to sustain his family and provide for his cattle.

“We’ve got some insurance on the crops, but it’s not enough,” he said. “It will help, but it won’t pay the bills.”

Of course the federal government is going to step in and try to help these farmers and ranchers, but the truth is that the federal government is already drowning in debt.  Any additional help will have to be done with more borrowed money.

It is hard to describe how oppressive the heat and the drought have been in the middle part of the nation this year.  We have seen some unprecedented things happen.

Another major problem throughout the central part of the country right now is all of the horrible wildfires that are ravaging the wilderness areas.  The following is from a recent Chicago Tribune article about the recent fires in Oklahoma….

Wildfires burned out of control on Friday in Oklahoma, destroying homes and shutting down highways in a state that has suffered 18 straight days of 100-plus degree temperatures and persistent drought.

Emergency officials counted 11 different wildfires around the state, with at least 65 homes destroyed in parched areas north and south of Oklahoma City and south of Tulsa.

Oklahoma joins several states that have been plagued by wildfires this summer, including Colorado, Arkansas and Nebraska. Fires are being fed by a widespread drought.

But these fires in Oklahoma are only part of a very distressing long-term trend.  As I have written about previously, 6 of the 10 worst years for wildfires ever recorded in the United States have all come since the year 2000.

Another major change that we have seen is that massive dust storms called “haboobs” are becoming much more frequent in the southwest part of the country.

Just the other day, a dust storm that was approximately 2,000 feet high and nearly 100 kilometers wide ripped through the city of Phoenix, Arizona at 35 miles an hour.

Such events were once very rare in Phoenix.

But not anymore.

Meanwhile, much of the central and western United States is rapidly running out of water.

And I am not just talking about surface water.

A lot of the key aquifers that have allowed us to build cities and irrigate crops in the western half of the United States are being drained completely dry.  The following is from a recent San Diego Union-Tribune article about what is happening in California….

Few places in Southern California is that more evident than the desert sands of Borrego Springs, where residents, farmers and golf course operators are sucking about four times as much water from the ground each year as nature replaces.

They’ve been pumping so hard for so long that the community’s main aquifer could essentially run dry after a few more decades. That’s a dire possibility: A recent study showed it would be prohibitively expensive to build a pipeline to an outside source.

Did you catch that last part?

The truth is that someday entire cities may have to be abandoned because it will be “prohibitively expensive” to build water pipelines stretching hundreds of miles to bring them water.

Sadly, this is not just happening in California.  This kind of thing is going on all over the nation….

Similar concerns are bubbling up along San Diego County’s backcountry and across the nation — particularly in places such as the Central Valley and the Great Plains, where residents have dug deep to withstand a drought that has squeezed the nation’s midsection dry.

“It took Mother Nature in some cases thousands of years to accumulate the water in the aquifers, but we are pumping it out in mere decades,” said Robert Glennon, a law professor and water expert at the University of Arizona. “It’s a huge national and international problem. … It is utterly unsustainable and scary.”

I have previously written about how the largest underground water source in the United States, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being drained at an almost unbelievable pace.  You can read my previous report about the Ogallala Aquifer right here.

So even when this summer ends our problems will be far, far from over.

But right now the most immediate concern is the condition of our corn and our soybeans.

Corn is found in about 74 percent of the products we buy in the supermarket, and it is used to feed livestock all over the country.

In addition, the United States exports more food to the rest of the world than anyone else does.

So if our crops fail that is a very big deal.

Right now, it is being reported that this drought “will likely cost the U.S. food export industry billions in lost revenue.”

Considering the fact that the “employment rate” in the United States is lower than it was during the last recession and that the U.S. economy is in the midst of a horrible long-term economic decline, this is the last thing that we need.

And what happens to all of the countries that are depending on us for food?

A recent Wired article had this startling headline….

U.S. Drought Could Cause Global Unrest

When people cannot feed their families, they tend to lose it.

Unfortunately, this year might just be the beginning.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, some scientists say that the drought has been so bad this year that it is going to take a “freak event” to avoid catastrophic damage to next year’s corn crops….

What matters now is whether there will be enough rain to get next year’s crops off to a good start.

“This drought isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “The damage is already done. What you are looking for is enough moisture to avert a second year of drought,” he said.

However, Svoboda conceded that might require a freak event, especially in the mid-west which has already passed its rain season. “In the entire corn belt, from Indiana to Nebraska to the Dakotas, we have already reached the maximum precipitation periods for year. From here on in, it’s all downhill,” Svoboda said.

“As far as widespread general relief for the whole region it would take a really freakish dramatic change to make that happen. That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, given the time of year we are in.”

The skies are dry and our fields are scorched.

Our crops our failing and millions of acres are burning.

Our groundwater supplies are being rapidly depleted and giant dust storms are sweeping across some of our major cities.

Welcome to the new normal.

It isn’t going to be pleasant.

The Corn Is Dying All Over America

All over America the corn is dying.  If drought conditions persist in the middle part of the country, wheat and soybeans will be next.  Weeks of intense heat combined with extraordinarily dry conditions have brought many U.S. corn farmers to the brink of total disaster.  If there is not significant rainfall soon, many farmers will be financially ruined.  This period of time is particularly important for corn because this is when pollination is supposed to happen.  But the unprecedented heat and the extremely dry conditions are playing havoc with that process.  With each passing day things get even worse.  We have seen the price of a bushel of corn soar 41 percent since June 14th.  That is an astounding rise.  You may not eat much corn directly, but it is important to realize that corn or corn syrup is just about in everything these days.  Just look at your food labels.  In the United States today, approximately 75 percent of all processed foods contain corn.  So a huge rise in the price of corn is going to be felt all over the supermarket.  Corn is also widely used to feed livestock, and if this crisis continues we are going to see a significant rise in meat and dairy prices as well.  Food prices in America have already been rising at a steady pace, and so this is definitely not welcome news.

The weather conditions in the middle part of the country during the last couple of months have been highly unusual.  The following is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times….

It’s not that the Midwest hasn’t been extremely hot before, and it’s not that it hasn’t been incredibly dry.

But it’s unusual for a vast swath of the Midwest to be so very hot and so very dry for so very long — particularly this early in the summer.

The current heat wave — which is spurring comparisons to the catastrophic heat of 1936 —  is “out of whack,” meteorologist Jim Keeney said Friday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Corn crops typically pollinate and mature in June and early July.  That is why this time of the year is so vitally important for corn.  We have reached a make it or break it moment.

The following is how an Accuweather.com report described what is happening right now….

Either heat or drought can stress the stalks, but both can basically shut down the pollination process. When this happens few, small or no ears of corn form.

According to AccuWeather.com Agricultural Meteorologists, you can’t raise a corn crop with less than an inch of rain over six weeks, combined with 100-degree and higher temperatures. However, these conditions have taken place in much of the southern corn belt through the week of July 4, 2012.

If pollination does not happen, corn farmers might as well give up.

Just check out what agricultural economist Chris Hurt said the other day….

“Pollination problems just can’t be overcome, even if the weather turns. There’s no turning back. There’s just failure.”

At this point, half of all corn in the state of Indiana is already in poor shape.

With each passing day, the condition of the corn gets even worse.

As a recent article in the Chicago Tribune detailed, many farmers feel completely helpless at the moment….

Dave Kestel, who farms about 1,300 acres in Manhattan about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, said he feels helpless.

“Every day you get out there and it’s the same heat and cloudless sky,” he said. “You see your corn just withering out there, knowing you can’t do anything about it.”

The United States is suffering from a severe lack of rain.  Just look at the chart posted below.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the country is experiencing drought conditions right now….

These drought conditions have also played a major role in the huge number of wildfires that we have seen lately.

There are a few northern states that are not feeling the drought right now, but otherwise the rest of the country is extremely dry.

So what does all of this mean for you and I?

A recent article by Holly Deyo summarized why we should all be praying for rain….

Since 75% of grocery store products use corn as a key ingredient, expect food prices to skyrocket. Corn is also a staple in many fast foods. Corn is in ethanol and the main food source or chickens. In addition to this, maize is in many things that aren’t obvious like adhesives, aluminum, aspirin, clothing starch, cosmetics, cough syrup, dry cell batteries, envelopes, fiberglass insulation, gelatin capsules, ink, insecticides, paint, penicillin, powders, rugs and carpets, stamps, talcum, toothpaste, wallpaper, and vitamins. That’s just for starters…

This is a huge heads up for you to purchase corn-using products NOW before these conditions reflect in grocery goods. It will be a narrow window of opportunity.

These thoughts are being echoed by many agricultural economists as well.  According to Businessweek, the outlook for U.S. food prices is bleak….

“When people look at rising prices for hamburger, butter, eggs and other protein sources from higher corn costs, that’s when more money ends up in the food basket,” said Minneapolis- based Michael Swanson, a senior agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. farm lender. “We were hoping for a break, and we aren’t going to get it.”

Unfortunately, the fact that the corn is dying all over America is not just a problem for the United States.

As Businessweek also recently noted, the fate of U.S. corn affects the entire globe….

When rain doesn’t fall in Iowa, it’s not just Des Moines that starts fretting. Food buyers from Addis Ababa to Beijing all are touched by the fate of the corn crop in the U.S., the world’s breadbasket in an era when crop shortages mean riots.

This year they have reason to be concerned. Stockpiles of corn in the U.S. tumbled 48 percent between March and June, the biggest drop since 1996, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week. And that was before drought hit the Midwest.

The United States is the world’s biggest exporter of corn by far, and if there is a massive corn crop failure in America it is going to be felt to the four corners of the earth.

Just check out what Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization, said the other day….

“Everyone watches the U.S. because they can rely on it. Without it, the world would starve.”

Back in February, I wrote an article that suggested that we could see dust bowl conditions return to the middle part of this country in the years ahead.

A lot of people were skeptical of that article.

Not quite as many people are skeptical today.

The following is from a recent article posted on MSNBC entitled “Fears of new Dust Bowl as heat, drought shrivel corn in Midwest“….

Crop insurance agents and agricultural economists are watching closely, a few comparing the situation with the devastating drought of 1988, when corn yields shriveled significantly, while some farmers have begun alluding, unhappily, to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Far more is at stake in the coming pivotal days: with the brief, delicate phase of pollination imminent in many states, miles and miles of corn will rise or fall on whether rain soon appears and temperatures moderate.

As I wrote about last week, if the weather does not turn around soon the implications are going to be staggering.

Even if we got some significant rainfall at this point a tremendous amount of damage has already been done according to the Washington Post….

Jay Armstrong, owner and operator of Armstong Farms in Kansas, flew his small plane over a portion of the affected area and landed with the impression that the potential damage is far worse than is commonly understood.

“At this time of year, when you look down in a place like Indiana or Illinois, you should see just lush green fields,” Armstrong said. “I saw bare soil. I just thought to myself, the market has no idea what’s coming.”

So is there significant rain in the forecast?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The National Weather Service says that the corn belt will experience “above-normal temperatures” and “below-normal rainfall” over the next week.

At this point it does not look like there will be any significant rainfall for the foreseeable future….

“We got a break in the temperatures over the weekend but no rain of significance is in sight for next seven days,” said Jim Keeney, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service the US central region based in Kansas City, Missouri.

Needless to say, that is really bad news.

Right now we just have more heat and more dryness to look forward to.  The skies are like iron and the earth is like brass.  We like to think that we have conquered nature, but at moments such as these we see that is not true at all.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about all of the reasons why we should be concerned about the second half of 2012.  In that article I did not even mention drought and crop failures.  Sometimes major problems have a way of piling on top of themselves.

The U.S. economy is already in bad enough shape without adding major crop failures to the mix.  This is something that we just don’t need right now.

But it looks like we are going to have to deal with it.  Unless there is a major change in the weather, food prices are going to go up even more and large numbers of farmers and ranchers are going to be absolutely devastated.

Let us all pray for rain.  We desperately need it.

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