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The Huge Cost of America's Drought

BY RELEVANT CULTURE / GLOBAL / ISSUE 59 August 15, 2012

Record summer heat rose like a fever along the U.S. grain belt and heightened into a national drought in July, causing a federal crisis that’s making farmers, politicians, consumers and international importers sweat.

Once-rich topsoil has crumbled into dust in over three-quarters of the country’s corn and soybean fields, and farmers are mowing over their crops in surrender. Already the worst drought in almost 50 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated over 1,300 counties as natural disaster zones.

But the national drought makes for more than just a bad harvest season. The limited supply of corn and soybeans is expected to have damaging reverberations at both local and international levels. Consumers will begin to feel this loss in a few months, as food prices for 2013 are projected at a record high. Then, when the world’s biggest grain exporter starts charging the difference in import costs, other countries will feel the blow.

David Beckmann, president of the humanitarian organization Bread for the World, reports that without cheap food access, the world could witness new waves of hunger, malnutrition and starvation, as well as the outbursts of violence that are frequently triggered by rising food prices.

“I get on my knees every day and I’m saying an extra prayer right now,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak at a press conference. As Americans look to the sky, many are joining with him to pray for rain and relief.