Summer drought has wreaked havoc on corn, wheat, tomatoes and many other American crops


It was a bad year for corn. And for the tomatoes. And for many other American cultures.

Farmers, agricultural economists and others taking stock of this summer’s growing season say drought conditions and extreme weather have taken their toll on many row crops, fruits and vegetables, the American Farm Bureau Federation suggesting yields could be down a third from last year.

U.S. corn is on course for its lowest yield since the 2012 drought, Rabobank analysts say, which collects data on commodity markets. This year’s hard red winter wheat crop was the lowest since 1963, bank analysts said. In Texas, cotton farmers have given up nearly 70% of their crop because the harvest is so paltry, according to the US Department of Agriculture. California’s rice harvest is half of what it would be in a normal year, an industry group has said.

The low yields are likely more than a year away, as climate change alters weather patterns in agriculturally important parts of the country, contributing to rising food prices that experts don’t see falling any time soon.

Drought has consumed 40% of the country in the past 101 weeks, USDA meteorologist said Brad Rippey. But precisely where that 40% is has changed over time, meaning different tracts of farmland across the country have been affected at different times, spreading pain and difficult choices geographically and by culture.

“Spring wheat, durum wheat, barley [in the Northeast] – these just got hammered in 2021. For some of these crops, these were the lowest yields we’ve seen since the 1980s,” Rippey said. “The biggest impacts this year have been the Central and Southern Great Plains – from Nebraska south through Texas – and the two major crops affected this year are grain sorghum. [primarily used for animal feed] and cotton.

Based on last month’s numbers, he said, it looks like Texas cotton crop abandonment will be the highest on record, around 69%: “That’s when farmers go.”

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In California, farmers are making tough choices about ditching their strawberries and tomatoes, lettuces and melons, so that the water they get goes to crops like almonds, grapes and olives, where they have sunk multi-year investments and the return is better, says Ripley.

Even with recent rains, much of the western United States still faces long-term drought, said Curtis Riganti, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center. “We are seeing widespread extreme and exceptional drought in the Central Valley of California, parts of Nevada, central and southern Oregon, the Central High Plains, southern Oklahoma and Texas,” he said. “And while we’ve seen a pretty active monsoon season this year over New Mexico, Arizona and southern Colorado, in terms of reservoir filling, that’s not doing a lot of good.”

Every August for the last 30 years, a group of agricultural experts and volunteer farmers from the Midwest jump into their cars and drive across seven states, field support for the USDA’s ongoing forecast of annual crop yields.

The USDA cut its corn forecast last month due to the drought this summer. But the The Pro Farmer Crop Tour, which ended Aug. 25, found the corn yield was even worse than had lowered expectations. Field inspectors also found that corn quality had suffered from the heat and dry conditions, with cobs carrying small kernels and many suffering from ‘tipping’, when kernels miss the outer edge.

Wheat has taken a hit this year, with rains preventing spring planting after a prolonged La Niña weather event brought several years of hotter and drier weather to major producing areas.

Drought is also having a dramatic effect on California rice, which is grown primarily in the Sacramento Valley. The state, which grows medium-grain rice like sushi rice, is about halfway through a normal year’s production, said Katie Cahill, spokeswoman for the California Rice Commission. Many growers have decided to fallow their fields and sell their water to perennials crops such as almonds to compensate for their losses.

The federal government operates a system of dams, reservoirs, and canals in California that the state relies on for agriculture and drinking water. Water agencies contract with the federal government for certain amounts of water each year. The federal government fulfills contracts based on the amount of water available. This year, as the state’s mega-drought entered its third year, the government said it had no water to give to farmers.

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Last summer was a disappointment for tomato growers, said Aaron Barcellos, partner at A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Firebaugh, Fresno County, Calif., “and we’re still in worse water ‘last summer”.

“Even the water in the river has been reduced. Other crops are competing for that same water, other crops that have better yields,” he said. On his own farm, he went from 2,000 acres of tomatoes in 2020 to 900 last year. This year, he only has 530 acres of canned tomatoes.

“Some of this land has become garlic and Pima cotton, the rest is fallow,” he said. Contracts with canneries are negotiated before the start of the season, so an exceptionally difficult year leaves producers in a financial hole. “We have contracts and these prices are not viable now. Many growers are leaving the tomato industry in recent years,” Barcellos said.

The USDA recently estimated that the tomato this year’s harvest will be 10.5 million tons, more than a million tons less than a normal season, which will be reflected in the prices of pizza, spaghetti sauce and ketchup l ‘next year.

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Harvesting of the new potato crop is underway and Rabobank analysts say harvested area is expected to fall 4% from last year (and last year’s harvest was the lowest for a decade). Its analysts also said year-to-date carrot shipments were down 45%, sweet corn down 20%, sweet potatoes down 13% and celery down 11%. all indications of scarcity. And according to the USDA, total peach production is down 15% from 2021, mostly due to California’s small harvest.

A plus point is soy. Gro Intelligence modeling put a total soybean forecast at 4.30 billion bushels, lower than the USDA’s 4.53 billion bushels but slightly higher than last year.

But the bad news extends to livestock, presaging bad news for beef prices next year. When the weather is dry and hot, there are not enough natural foods for everyone. To support a herd, herders must bring in hay, and feed prices soar, prompting herders to sell their animals a little earlier, and often to sell heifers, the young females, rather than keeping them as breeders, said Sarah Little, spokeswoman for the North American Meat Institute, a trade association. This has resulted in lower beef prices for consumers in the short term, but signals that there will likely be tighter supplies next year.

A recent Farm Bureau survey found the biggest herd decline is in Texas (reported down 50%), followed by New Mexico (down 43%) and Oregon (down 41% ), largely due to scarcity of fodder and water, which reduces exploitation. income for breeders.

“Producers are particularly hard hit because feed, fuel and fertilizer costs have gone up, so although they’re getting record prices for livestock, inflation has hurt their incomes,” Little said.