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Friday, August 3, 2012

Wither Goes the Corn?

One of the most under played news stories in the national media right now is the potential impact of the mid-western drought on food security in the United States.  According to Forbes 75% of food on supermarket shelves has corn in it.  Having already destroyed, stunted or delayed much of the corn crop, the heat is now working it's way on the soybean crop.  The Agriculture Dept conservative estimate is that food prices will rise by 3-4% this year as a result. 
However this is based on the current, incomplete assessment of the drought's impact on corn and other crops.This drought is a new phenomenon-- a global warming drought based on fundamental alteration of weather patterns.  Already about one quarter of the country is in severe drought. Other estimates of potential price impacts range as high as 15% and the latent fear that eventually, for a time, the U.S. may become a net importer of food may play havoc with the crop futures market.  Food inflation may undermine economic recovery. 

The problem is magnified by the current rightest orientation of the House of Representatives, for whom no ideological stonewalling of reality  is too great.  The house is tampering with food security by  undermining crop subsidies and cutting food stamps. If the extent of crop loss is no greater than currently envisioned we will skate by with the usual increase in hunger and misery for the poor.  If the disaster proves epic while Congress runs in the other direction, by spring we may have food riots and demonstrations beginning in poor neighborhoods. If Romney is elected, having already shown his response to Occupy demonstrators as less than civil, and with his money ensconced abroad, expect the demonstrators to be crushed rather than placated.  Wither goes the corn: to seeds of discontent. 


  1. I don't think the House gives a damn about those who need food stamps and the like, to be perfectly honest. They'll only care when it's their kids going hungry.

  2. Joe, here's another take on this....there's a real question of whether we should be offering any of these subsidies to food, especially corn. Here's a link to a ducmentary, King Corn, which disucssed the problems associated with these subsidies. If the government is going to be in the food subsidy business, it should be in a way to enhance a wider access to whole foods and fresh vegetables. Most of this corn is not made avaialble for fresh vegetable consumption but it feed into animals to make cheap fast food. We are subsidizing the fast food makers at the cost of our public health.

    Besides, these subsidies have to be paid for. If there's no efforts underway to increase tax revenues, cuts are going to have to be made and farm subsidies are, in my opinion, a good place to start.

  3. I actually agree with you in spite of my comment. However, I think they should be phased out, especially subidies for not growing crops, with other more progressive ag supports, including crop insurance and purchase of surpluses being implemented. I also think we should be growing more of other varieties of grains and legumes and hardier forms of corn that are more drought tolerant. However the House Republicans just want to cut blindly without creating an ag policy. And you are right, vegetables should be supported also. Thanks for your views Jim.