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Dennis Boogards looked sad and helpless when he stood by his sun-scorched 1,000-acre farm of corn and soybeans. The crops were half dried or barely growing, but there was still no sign of rain.
After a rainless July coupled with daily heat at 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, the family farm owner in the U.S. Midwest state of Iowa now expects a harvest of merely 70 to 80 bushels per acre on the corn field, instead of the past average of 180 to 220 bushels an acre. His biggest wish right now is to see more rains in August, which can help fill out the soybean pods and stem the loss.
"See? The kernels are starting to dry up on this corn plant," Boogards told Xinhua in a recent interview, pointing to the plant he just pulled out of the field. "If we don't get any more rains, we will continue to see the kernels get smaller and continue to dry up."
Turning to a soybean plant, he added: "If it continues to dry, these flowers will dry up, shrivel and fall off. August is the most important time for bean pods to be filled. They really need moisture and not a lot of heat during August."
This year was the first time 67-year-old Ken Timms can remember cutting silage in July.
The drought, rated severe for all of southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas, stunted entire corn crops and destroyed others, leaving little for producers to feed to an already withering cattle herd.
“I’ve been feeding cattle all my life and running this particular feed yard for 20 years, and I have never seen anything like this in my life,” he said.
Timms, who runs Double T Livestock near Adams with his son Randy and Brett Stanley, said the severe drought is putting entire cattle operations in jeopardy.
The corn they were able to salvage only produced about half the grain it would normally produce, Timms added. Some fields were so dry they couldn’t be cut because they wouldn’t pack.
The lack of grain available for his feedlot and the potential some ethanol plants may not have any corn to process for ethanol distiller byproduct this fall and a lack of available hay means Timms and other operations of all different sizes are being forced to make some tough decisions.
“Our feed is our limiting factor and high priced corn is the other limiting factor,” Timms said. “If we’re not able to buy the distiller from the ethanol plants, we have some concern that we’re not going to have enough corn locally to feed the cattle.”
In the face of increasing costs to feed cattle, producers have been selling off herds as quickly as they can.
Beatrice 77 Livestock sale barn owner Dennis Henrichs estimated cattle sales rose between 40-50 percent in July compared to a year ago as producers liquidate their herds.
So what exactly will this mean overall? All food prices will rise. How far will depend on how long the drought lasts
"This is not some gentle monthly wake-up call, it's the same global alarm that's been screaming at us since 2008," said Colin Roche of Oxfam, noting that the drought could lead to food shortages for millions of people worldwide.
Hallam said the world food supply isn't as lean as it was during the international food crisis of 2007 and 2008, because, even though corn prices are prohibitively expensive, consumers have other foods to fall back on.
"If countries start unilaterally panic buying or restricting exports, that could make a bad problem worse," said Hallam. "The situation right now is one of heightened vulnerability to any future shocks."
The association blamed poor crop-growing conditions, particularly in the US, for a 25% rise in the cost of pig feed ingredients, which has meant many producers are unable to turn a profit.