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Food Prices Rise as Drought Persists

A look at which Congressional Districts are hurt the most by the drought of 2012. Click for larger map.
March 18, 2014 - Food prices continue to have an impact on inflation as the drought in much of the United States continues through the close of winter.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the increase in the price of food was a significant factor for inflation of the Consumer Price Index in February.

"An increase in the food index accounted for more than half of the all items increase in February," the BLS report said. "The food index rose 0.4 percent in February, driven by a 0.5 percent increase in the index for food at home, with four of the six major grocery store food group indexes increasing."

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said that internationally prices continued to rise in February, though at a slower rate than previously.

"The FAO Food Price Index averaged 208.1 points in February 2014, 5.2 points, or 2.6 percent, above a slightly revised index for January, but still 2.1 percent less than one year ago" the FAO said. "Last month’s (January's) rebound, the sharpest witnessed since mid-2012, resulted from strengthening quotations of all the commodity groups making up the index, except meat, which fell marginally." Related News from Prior Coverage Aug. 10, 2012 - A second round of reports in as many months hammered home the message of rising food prices in months to come as a result of a major drought in the United States.

The US Deparment of Agriculture forecast that corn and soy bean harvests in the US will be down 13 and 12 percent respectively from the 2011 harvests.

Also, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation warned that a food crisis similar to 2007 and 2008 could re-emerge if countries pull back on grain exports.

Both reports came on the heels of the weekly US Monitor report showing that the drought in the grain belt of the US continued to worsen.

"This week, we saw extreme (D3) and exceptional (D4) drought continue to expand or intensify over parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Illinois," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and U.S. Drought Monitor author at the National Drought Mitigation Center. "New Mexico has also seen some degradation, and D4 drought has been introduced from east central Kansas to west central Missouri." Some areas improved from "exceptional" to "extreme", he added.

Last month the USDA predicted that food prices could rise over 2.5% in 2012 and as much as 4% in 2013 because of the drought.

The repeated droughts of the last several years have raised concerns that the effects of global warming and climate change are being manifested in the extreme weather. Although serious dry spells occur in the western United States periodically, scientist James Hansen and colleagues recently published a study detailing a statistically significant link between warming and the droughts.

Also, the drought and the food forecasts come during an election year. A five-year farm bill is on hold during the Congressional August recess, although the House did pass a $383 emergency loan for livestock producers and certain other farmers before adjourning.

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