Dismal forecast: The weather as an economic indicator

Corn grows on a farm near Fredericksburg, Iowa.

Get ready for a bump in food prices. Analysts say that consumers could see an increase to their grocery bill based on the latest forecast for farmers this growing season.

Jeremy Hobson: Juli Niemann of Smith Moore and Company in St. Louis says she is worried about the weather. Juli, what's going on?

Juli Niemann: Well Jeremy, it's gorgeous here. It's dry, no humidity, not a cloud in the sky. I think there's a song in this. But crops are getting cooked in the field. The big problem right now is there's no rain. And the pain ahead is that the corn silking and the flower setting is shaping up to be probably the worst in years.

One climatologist we heard from has said the planetary alignment is now what it was in the 1930s and that distorts the gravitational pull on the weather patterns, setting us up for huge global drought.

Hobson: Bring us back to economics then. What does that mean for people as they go out and buy food and that sort of thing?

Niemann: Well, we now have over 7 billion people in the world and they're all hungry, and there's big demand out there for our grain. Russian drought killed the winter wheat crop. South American drought killed sugar, soybeans and corn, which means prices are really going up.

We were the last resort here. We have unseasonably warm dry weather. Very early spring. Killer late frost. All of this is setting up for significantly higher grain and food costs. Of course that passes through to the consumer.

Hobson: Well, of course the consumer is also having a little break when it comes to gas prices right now, right?

Niemann: Yeah but that goes into the gas tank and not into the grocery cart, and that's the big problem. We're getting a break from gasoline, which does help somewhat, but farmers are still paying higher fuel costs than they did last year so that's hurting them as well. So while we're getting a little bit of a break there we're going to see significantly higher food prices unless we get rain. And that directly hits all American consumers just at the time when you're trying to recover from a depression.

Hobson: Julie Niemann, analyst with Smith Moore and Company, thanks as always.

Niemann: You bet.

About the author

Juli Niemann is executive vice-president for research and portfolio management with Smith, Moore and Company.
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It's been several days since the admission on the Marketplace blog post from Juli Niemann that she fabricated a wildly inaccurate quote about the climate during a report on the recent Colorado wildfires, and we are still without any sort of on-air correction, as far as I can hear from my local NPR station KUAZ.

If there has been an on-air correction that I missed, please let me know. There also is no correction in the online story itself.

In fact, Neimann was back on the air this morning with David Brancaccio, where in their unrelated exchange, Brancaccio ironically quipped to Neimann "truth telling is always useful."

Of course, a blog comment "correction" does not suffice, and reaches almost none of your listeners. I assume that Marketplace is maintaining the highest standard in its journalism and its relationship with its listeners. I want to know that Marketplace does not fabricate its reporting whether its on financial matters or basic science related to the marketplace.

Please advise when the on air correction will be made, if it hasn't already. Thanks.

OK guys, I deserve 40 lashes with a wet noodle. My source for that statement was an article in Futures Magazine. I asked the author for source information and I have not heard back from him, so it is looking like some pretty "soft science". It is not my intention to defend why planetary alignment might cause weather patterns; it was an aside, merely mentioning what someone (obviously less -than- authoritative) had suggested as a reason. It was a not meant to be a definitive "science guy" moment. The driving point, which I do stand behind, is that we are very close to seeing a repeat of the '30's dustbowl. The economic consequences of this are likely to be severe, prolonging this painfully long recovery from what I am convinced has been a depression. This was not just a severe recession like the '80-'82 period which was the worst we had experienced in recent times.


Thank you for coming to the blog to address your on-air statements. It can't be easy to come on and admit to such a mistake, and you deserve credit for facing your listeners.

It's not just "soft science", it's astrology. It's just made up. It just happens to have the words "planet" in it rather than "fairies" or "fire god." What baffles me is that you would go out of your way to search for some hair-brained magic-induced reason for the unusually hot and dry summer, rather than exploring the possibility of it being a result of one of the most publicized causes for recent changes in the weather patterns - global climate change. Surely, even a financial consultant is at least somewhat familiar with the possible market impacts of human-induced global climate change, a.k.a. "global warming." I'm not saying that this is the reason for these unusually hot summers (but is likely), but it should have been your first instinct to follow up on. If you're going to search for a reason for these hot and dry summers, just (really) call or email a climatologist - I'm sure there are lots of them out there who would be happy to give you some possible explanations.

The other point is that you passed this old website quote off as receiving it directly from the source for your report., e.g. "One climatologist we heard from..." This is straight out of the Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair books of journalism. I suspect that you will have to answer to your bookers/producers for that, but I hope you can recognize what a serious breach of journalistic ethics this is. I trust that you will not happen in the future, and that is hasn't happened in your past reports.

This doesn't go to Juli, but to the Marketplace producers: I did not hear an on-air correction this morning. I trust there is one in the works, preferably by week's end while the topic is still relatively fresh in peoples' minds. Your listeners will certainly want to know if Marketplace actually consults horoscopes for its financial reporting.

There hasn't been a retraction of Juli Niemann's statement as of this morning. I sincerely hope that the management of Marketplace reads its own blogs, especially with one that has so many comments attached to it.

Marketplace has a vested interest in quickly addressing this issue. So far as I can tell , no media outlets or science journalism sites have picked up on this story -- yet. But if this continues to fester through the internet for even a day or two longer without a correction, Marketplace's reputation for fact-based reporting will be negatively impacted with its core audience, and a late retraction after the story has taken hold will probably do nothing to reverse the permanent damage incurred in the pubic arena.

In the language of its own reporting, "What's up Marketplace?"

That is some pretty amazingly bad science to include unquestioned and unsourced in a story. Perhaps your climatologist was also an astrologer?

This is an appalling lapse of journalistic standards. The interviewee can't cite her climatologist reference, and Marketplace just lets it stand? Any climatologist can tell you what is happening right now, and it isn't hocus-pocus. I expect your radio program to exercise better judgment. No wonder Americans don't see a great need to take action on climate change--even progressive radio doesn't promote a realistic discussion of the issue. Too much influence from corporate underwriters like ANGA?

To add to the choir, but that is disgracefully bad journalism on behalf of Marketplace, and they need to make an on-air correction.

Sorry, but I have to pile on here as well. That statement was way off the mark on multiple levels. Planetary "alignments" do NOT influence Earth's weather. The combined gravitational forces of all the planets is insignificant compared to that of Earth's Moon, way too small to have any influence at all. I would love to hear who this alleged climatologist is.

As a journalist, you need to follow up and challenge statements that don't pass the smell test. It's part of the job.

I am sure there are many climate scientists who would be happy to help you fact check when necessary.

Like dflateau, I am a longtime fan and listener and hope you will make an appropriate correction and check your science stories carefully in the future.

"One climatologist we heard from has said the planetary alignment is now what it was in the 1930s and that distorts the gravitational pull on the weather patterns, setting us up for huge global drought."

Oh. My. Oh. My!

This is just too much. I have been a fan of Marketplace for a long time, but this is really taking things to a new low. There is no, repeat NO basis in reality for the above statement, any more than there is a basis for the reality of the "end of the world" as "predicted" by the "Mayan Calendar".

It's bad enough that some fundamentalist textbooks use the "reality" of the Loch Ness Monster as "proof" that evolution is a myth, but Marketplace has no place in contributing to the "dumbing down" of the American public.

I heard this on the radio this morning and was surprised that Marketplace would be passing on analysis based on astrology. What's next, tea leaves?


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