Drought May Drive Up Food Costs

Widespread drought has prompted the Agriculture Department to slash its estimated forecasts for grain and soybean production and the conditions could drive food prices up.

Federal officials lowered their estimate Monday for corn production by 7 percent from last year, predicting that nearly 8.89 billion bushels will be harvested this year. If the forecast is realized, it would be lowest production since 1995.

The Agriculture Department also lowered its forecast for other crops, including soybeans. The agency says production is expected to be 2.63 billion bushels, down 9 percent from 2001.

Corn and soybeans are two commodities used in hundreds of food products and used as feed for hogs, cattle, chickens and other livestock. The lack of rainfall has forced some cattlemen in Midwestern and Western states to sell their herds because they can't afford to feed the animals.

Forecasts for all wheat production also were lowered by 14 percent from last year's crop to 1.69 billion bushels, according to the agency's crop report.

Areas that have been severely affected include agricultural states in the Western Corn Belt, Great Plains, Ohio Valley and Atlantic Coastal Plain.

Conditions are so poor in Nebraska that Gov. Mike Johans has asked Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to declare the entire state a disaster area so farmers may obtain federal assistance.

Veneman already has declared Utah an agricultural disaster area. The state has been affected by drought for four years.

Although several Midwestern states are also dry, rain fell in much of Minnesota and Iowa in July, allowing most areas in those states to escape the drought.

But conditions have worsened in Kansas as a heat wave continues. State statistics indicate half of he state's corn crop is very poor and poor.

Other commodities are also suffering because of the dry weather. The Agriculture Department says cotton production is expected to be 9 percent lower from last year's crop at 18.4 million, 480-pound bales.