Food prices could ride heat wave up, up, up

Lisa Napoli Jul 24, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: Someobdy needs to turn on the hose and spray down much of the country. Wildfires continue to sear parts of California. Power outages linger in St. Louis and Queens, New York. Wherever you live, you don’t need me to tell you that these are the dog days of summer — we’re all matted and panting. Discomfort is one thing, losing a big chunk of your business is another. Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli looks at one industry particularly hard-hit by the record temperatures.

LISA NAPOLI: Record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures are making seven years of lingering drought even worse for farmers like Jerry Sonnenberg. He raises corn, wheat, sunflowers, millet and cattle in Logan County, Colo.

Sonnenberg says when agriculture suffers, everyone does.

JERRY SONNENBERG: People will have to start paying more for their food.

A natural disaster’s been declared in counties across at least five states to give government aid to those who work the land. But Gene Hall of the Texas Farm Bureau says rain is what they really need.

Subsidies may help farmers pay bills, but it doesn’t put food on our tables.

GENE HALL: In South Texas, virtually no cotton or grain crops came up at all. On the high plains of Texas, the dry land crop is pretty much gone. The irrigated crop is questionable because with energy prices so high it’s unlike many cotton farmers will be able to pump water for very long and hope to make any profit at all.

Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center says the situation’s particularly bad in the West — although everyone has been suffering:

MARK SVOBODA: Based on last week’s drought monitor, we have almost 50 percent of the country in at least a moderate form of drought or worse. So, when you have heat on top of that we’re really starting to stress the crops because we’re drying out the topsoil.

Drought may not be as dramatic as a hurricane, but it is a weather event that’s costly. The Department of Agriculture says the drought that’s plagued so many farmers since the late ’90s has cost at least $30 billion.

So far it clocks in as the the third-worst on record.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

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