Corn crop continues to suffer, food prices to rise as a result

Saturday, July 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:50 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 16, 2012
Extreme heat and drought have taken a toll on Missouri corn crops. Farmers expect low yields, which may affect food prices.

COLUMBIA — Withered corn stalks rise only a few feet from the dry, cracked ground. Beside them stand 6-feet-tall, healthy-looking green stalks.

Jay Fischer, who farms about 1,500 acres near the Missouri River about three miles from Jefferson City, has to search through green stalks for about two minutes to find a single ear of corn in his crop. The healthy-looking stalks aren’t much better off than the poorest plants. The heat caused problems with the pollination of the crop, and the part of his crop that was planted in the sandiest soil is dead.

“It's been awful discouraging,” Fischer said.

Corn, wheat and soybean prices are most immediately affected by the weather, and they've already gone up. Meat prices will rise in the coming months — another effect of the bad corn crop, said Pat Westhoff, director of Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at MU.

Corn prices were at $7.75 per bushel on Friday, Fischer said.

But exactly when other food prices will rise as the result of the increase in corn prices depends on the food, explained Ronald Plain, professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at MU. 

Sweet corn: Prices are already up. The quantity and quality are very low, so the impact on prices was quick.

Chicken: Prices will increase in the fourth quarter.

Pork: Prices will rise in a year, with higher prices expected in the summer of 2013.

Soybeans: In addition to suffering from a lack of water, Missouri soybeans are also under assault by a pest that commonly attacks the plants during drought conditions – the spider mite.

The tiny creatures live on the undersides of leaves and suck already limited moisture from them, a news release from the MU Cooperative Media Group said.

If left untreated, soybean plants will die as a result of the pests, the release said.

Though one good rain would help the problem, the currently persisting drought and heat could mean the continued presence of mites, and consequently an even greater increase in soybean prices.

Beef: Prices won't rise until 2015. There is a longer delay because of the longer gestational period of calves. 

The price of feed for livestock will also climb as corn is one of its primary ingredients. 

Joe Haley, sales associate at the Bourn Feed and Supply Incorporated, hasn’t seen retail prices go up yet but thinks it is just a matter of time.

Anticipating that expense, many livestock farmers are reducing their herds, Westhoff said. The lower supply will put more pressure on meat prices.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its projected national average yield for corn this year by 30 percent. That's the largest reduction Westhoff has seen by the department from one month to the next.

Normally, Fischer gets around 150 to 200 bushels per acre from the 700 acres of corn he farms.  This year, he will be happy to get 70 or 80 bushels per acre, he said.

Typically, he sells his corn to Cargill. The higher price for corn will help offset the financial effects of the bad crop this year, but it will never make up for the bad season, he said.

To make matters worse for prices, the country's corn reserves were already low due to an increase in corn use worldwide, said Pat Oswald, assistant manager at the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator Inc.. That includes the use of corn in ethanol, he said.

Some insurance agencies are suggesting farmers with a bad crops harvest their corn early and use it as silage to feed the livestock, according to a news release from the MU Cooperative Media Group. However, most farmers don’t have the proper equipment or storage space. Less than 5 percent of the current corn crop is likely to be harvested for silage, Oswald estimated. 

If it stays hot and dry, Fischer may look into equipment to silage his corn crop.

Two inches of rain fell on his farm on Sunday. Sunday's rainfall was the first reaching over half an inch since the first week in May, Fischer said.

“Pray for rain,” he said. 

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Derrick Fogle July 14, 2012 | 5:08 p.m.

Climate change is already affecting agriculture. This will get worse.

(Report Comment)
Dana Reitano July 14, 2012 | 8:14 p.m.

Asked by Meatingplace on a conference call if USDA would support easing the Renewable Fuel Standard if the corn crop continues to deteriorate, Vilsack said, “We are not at that point. Certainly the renewable fuels program is an extraordinarily important aspect of our efforts to rebuild and revitalize the rural economy.The reality is, we are still looking at the third largest corn crop on record and we are still looking at a very large soybean crop … . So, at this point, we have no plan to adjust the Renewable Fuels Standard.”

First, I didn't know that the renewable fuel program was designed to "rebuild & revitalize the rural economy". I thought we needed to use ethanol for all the reasons the greenies have said, "Lower our dependence on foreign oil, lower green house gases, etc...."

But, my point in posting this is to point out that the USDA on one hand reduces the corn crop estimate by 1.8 billion bushels and on the other hand the USDA says they are not going to reduce the Renewable Fuels Standard. Which means there will be 1.8 Billion fewer bushels of corn available for our food supply. The "Smartest People in the Room" at the Department of Agriculture are choosing to feed our cars rather than feed our people with corn.

Which leads to the obvious question, "Why don't we pump actual oil from the ground for our cars and eat the corn?"

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 14, 2012 | 10:39 p.m.

"Climate change is already affecting agriculture. This will get worse."

Why would anyone, "trying to help", make a nonsensical statement of this sort?

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett July 14, 2012 | 11:06 p.m.

@" Which means there will be 1.8 Billion fewer bushels of corn available for our food supply..."


Going to be an expesive food season for the consumer. Even the backyard gardens and rented plots, where folks are growing their own produce for canning and freezing, have dried up in the drought, and stunted in growth.

The higher the prices, the more we grow our own - but with no rain, we are all literally in for the results of this agriculture failure this year.

That is a given - already.

Sadly enough.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking July 15, 2012 | 5:06 a.m.

Dana Reitano wrote:

"Which leads to the obvious question, "Why don't we pump actual oil from the ground for our cars and eat the corn?"

Well, we do. Ethanol is mostly oil and natural gas anyway - you have to put about 3/4 of a barrel oil equivalent in (in the form of ferilizers, field preparation and harvest, and processing the corn into ethanol) to get out a barrel of ethanol.

Most corn goes into animal feed anyway. Eating less meat would have a much greater effect on corn supply than any other conservation method.

Frank, climate change, whatever is causing it, is not a hoax. It's something that we damned well better adapt to, or a lot of people aren't going to have enough to eat.


(Report Comment)
Bob Brandon July 15, 2012 | 6:27 a.m.

Mr. Christian nonsensically responded: "Why would anyone, "trying to help", make a nonsensical statement of this sort?"

Because acknowledging the nature of the problem is the first helpful step in developing effective ways to deal with it. Nothing nonsensical about that.

The first truly nonsensical response is to deny that the situation exists. The second is to criticize those who so recognize the situation.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 15, 2012 | 6:50 a.m.

I've posted on this before. According to one source*, the earth's atmosphere weighs 5,200 million million tons. That's a BIG system, and big systems, once they start moving in some definite direction, can't be turned around with ease.

For example, suppose we cut all carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks, railroad locomotives and ships in half, and suppose we cut all carbon dioxide emissions from industrial heat processing operations in half, and cut all carbon dioxide emissions from commercial and home (fuel fired) heating in half, I wouldn't expect to see a noticeable change in temperature and weather patterns for at least several years.

And we know we're not going to "halve" those things literally tomorrow.

What I said before is that BIG SYSTEMS are often hard to influence (if we are trying to influence them), but once they start "moving" they also aren't easy to change.

This summer I've had business such that, driving in another state, I pass by what looks like a substantial agricultural university. Its the world headquarters of Pioneer Hybrid**, oldest and one of the largest purveyors of hybridized seed corn. You can bet Pioneer and their competitors are working at developing hybrid corn that resists high temperatures and drought, not so much on corn resistant to too much moisture and cool temperatures. :)

*-"Earth, The Sapphire Planet," Url Lanham (Dover Publications, 1999). This 133 page book has been written for the non-scientist, and is a good place to start if you are interested in climate, geology, or both.

**-One of Pioneer's founders was Henry A. Wallace, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (1933-1940) and Vice President of the United States (1941-1945). Wallace may have been "flaky" politically, but he was an agricultural genius.

(Report Comment)
frank christian July 15, 2012 | 11:02 a.m.

B. Brandon - "Because acknowledging the nature of the problem is the first helpful step in developing effective ways to deal with it.,2933,5109...

"U.N. 'Climate Change' Plan Would Likely Shift Trillions to Form New World Economy"

Their "plan" includes only new taxes, tariffs, subsidies and public investment in green sources, as the cure.

Should one wonder why, it seems, only progressive, liberals, whom cherish the thought of transfer of wealth, from ones who earned it, to those who want it, have so eagerly acknowledged "the nature of the problem"?

(Report Comment)

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