Drought to Continue Through February; Winter Crops Hit Hard

An eight and a half month long drought, which scientists have linked to human caused climate change, continues to ravage the US heartland. This week, total area affected by drought remains steady at 59% of the contiguous US, with some minor improvements in the Eastern Midwest even as areas in the Southeast and West grew drier.

Losses to US farmers also continue to worsen. This year’s corn crop was cut by 13 percent and conditions for the US wheat crop are now the worst in 27 years. Conditions for the current winter wheat crop continued to deteriorate this week, with only 36% of the crop now rated in excellent to good condition. Meanwhile, US livestock levels have dropped to their lowest number in 39 years.

Keith Kisling, 65, noted in a Bloomberg report:

“It’s drier than I can ever remember and I’ve been farming for 40 years. A lot of wheat hasn’t emerged yet, and some are up but they’re spotty because they didn’t get any rain. It’s gotten progressively worse.”

Another farmer from the same report said:

“The dust storm we had in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago, some of that seed got blown out and we had to replant. And we’ve had such high temperatures. We have no moisture or limited moisture. What little soil moisture we had in the subsoil, those high temperatures will pull that out.”

Unfortunately, the forecast is for persisting US drought through February with some areas worsening and other areas showing slight abatement. The areas under the gun remain the US West and a smaller section of the US Southeast, centering on Georgia.

Such a long-running drought produces a growing risk that dry conditions will extend into summer to threaten US corn, soy, and sorghum crops again this year. Worldwide, drought conditions are also impacting crops in Europe and Russia.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-16/drought-expected-to-persist-through-february-in-great-plains

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-14/cattle-grazing-wheat-fields-to-decline-as-drought-cuts-prospects.html

 

 

 

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Global Warming Brings Hell in the Heartland, High Water on the East Coast

Joe Romm in his seminal book on climate change ‘Hell and High Water‘ described how human caused global warming was likely to ravage both the US and the world, if left unchecked. It is an alarming revelation of the immediate problem posed by climate change that shows many of the effects and impacts resulting from greenhouse gas emissions are far more current than initially thought. These impacts occur within the span of our generation, not just as a nasty form of generational sabotage foisted on our children and grandchildren.

This year, as climate scientists around the world acknowledged the fact that global warming was having a direct impact on weather, causing it to worsen, the first strong effects of human caused climate change began to take shape. These first outliers of ‘Hell and High Water’ climate change are now being visited upon the United States. Off the East Coast, as described in a previous blog, it appears that a storm to rival the Perfect Storm of 1991 may well be forming. Meanwhile a severe drought that began this Spring continues to ravage the heartland.

Currently, over 62 percent of the United States’ landmass continues to struggle under the assaults of a historic drought. By mid-October of any normal year you would have expected dryness and drought to have slackened its grip on our country. But this year the drought that peaked at 65% of the total continental landmass has barely even paused. Enormous swaths of the country remain under drought with the most extreme drought burning a hole directly in the country’s center.

Overall, extreme conditions have mainly shifted north and west. But the coverage and impact of drought areas remains substantial. According to this week’s Drought Monitor:

Significant precipitation was limited to the eastern Dakotas, while the High Plains’ hard red winter wheat belt received little or no rain.  As a result, soil moisture shortages continued to limit wheat emergence and development across the northwestern half of the Plains.  In addition, mid-week wind gusts locally in excess of 70 mph raised dust and temporarily closed major roadways across parts of the Plains.

Overall, the risk to the nation’s wheat harvest remains high with more than 60% of the nation’s wheat under threat. That said, wheat is a much hardier crop than corn and may well show less impact from the ongoing drought. However, stakes remain high as the US is a major wheat exporter and UN food analysts are saying the world may enter a food crisis if any more climate-driven shortages crop up.

Russian and Ukraine wheat output is at a nine year low. EU stockpiles are at a 14 year low. Argentina, the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter, has experienced a 16 percent fall in production. Though US wheat prices are running $20 per ton higher than the world average, the world may turn to the US as EU and South American wheat stocks set aside for export begin to run low. In such an event, any damage to the US wheat harvest would cause serious difficulties for importing countries like Egypt and other Middle Eastern and African nations reliant on world trade to supplement their people’s nutritional requirements.

Persistent US drought could pose a problem for next year’s crops as well. Back to back years like 2012 would result in severe consequences for both the US and the community of nations reliant on international trade to prevent hunger.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-24/france-tops-u-dot-s-dot-wheat-with-premium-seen-at-record-commodities

Persistent Global Warming Induced Drought Threatens Winter Crops

 

A persistent drought, that scientists are saying has been made worse by global warming, is now threatening the nation’s winter crops.

According to the US Drought Monitor, 64% of the US is now suffering from some level of drought. Though the overall area of drought fell slightly last week, regions of the US West and heartland experienced intensifying drought. This persistence of broad areas and intensification in critical regions is contributing to anxiety over US winter crops. And many key states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa are already experiencing impacts.

According to CBS’s Money Watch:

Dry conditions continue to intensify in Kansas, where extreme drought now covers the entire south-central portion of the state, according to Thursday’s update released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Those parched environs are stalling growth of winter wheat. The 65 percent of that crop planted in Kansas as of last Sunday was slightly above the average pace, though a below-average 25 percent of that emerged. Less than one-third of Nebraska’s winter wheat fields have germinated, 12 days behind the norm.

The new threat to US crops comes on the back of severe summer losses to the nation’s corn crop. These losses have caused yields to drop to 122 bushels per ache, the lowest average per acre since 1995. Overall, industry use of corn will need to be negotiated due to tightening supplies — a form of industry rationing that takes place during times of constraint. Total US corn production is expected to be 10.71 billion bushels, down from last month’s estimate and the lowest since 2006. Current US corn supply is the lowest in 17 years — three weeks of forward supply. Drought persisting through winter will hit wheat crops as well, resulting in even more tightness in the grain markets.

Unfortunately, the long-term forecast is for global warming to result in worsening overall drought conditions for the US. Serious efforts are needed to prevent further damage to US farmers and US agriculture. This year’s drought, the worst in 55 years, comes on the back of the fifth driest period for the US west in 500 years. Climate experts only show worsening conditions if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121011/us-drought-harvest-estimate/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57530523/drought-holds-steady-clouding-winter-crop-outlook/

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1633.html

 

Record US Drought Deepens, 61 Percent of Country Suffering From Some Level of Drought

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The most recent report from NOAA shows a current record US drought deepening with more than 61% of the country now suffering from extreme conditions.

The worst drought in 25 years has severely impacted US agriculture. According to the monitor, in the US’s 18 primary corn-producing states, 30 percent of the corn crop is now in poor or very poor condition. Earlier this year, a combination of increased demand and poor conditions last year resulted in more than 48% of US corn stockpiles being wiped out. In response, the US began planting its largest corn crop ever in May. Now, unprecedented widespread drought conditions are threatening that crop.

The result is that food prices are steadily rising. This Thursday, corn prices had risen by as much as 4% by end of trading. Since mid June prices for corn had risen more than 33%, with prices of wheat jumping 23% and prices of soy rising 13%.

These rising prices reflect anxiety on the part of grain consumers from China to the Middle East and many other places around the world. The crisis has caused many to wonder if this year may be a repeat of 2010, when severe drought damaged Russia’s wheat crop and sent prices soaring. The food scarcity that followed sparked food riots throughout the Middle East and served as a flash-point for the Arab Spring.

This year, threatening conditions include the consistent dryness in the US, another dry year in the Russian wheat belt and the worst start to India’s Monsoon season in three years. These factors have caused increased concerns that regions will impose export restrictions in order to preserve local food security, to the detriment of food importers.

Food security in recent years has also been harmed by the emergence of ‘just in time’ supply, where stockpiles are winnowed down in favor of a rapid response market and delivery system. Such a system works fine so long as abundant supplies are available. But the system is not resilient to crisis events, where the lack of available food in the event of yearly or multi-year droughts can have dramatic impacts on world food security.

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