CNN.com reports that Argentine farmers face their worst drought in 50 years.
(emphasis mine) [my comment]
Argentine farmers face ruin as drought kills cattle, crops
*** Worst drought in 50 years is hitting Argentina
*** Farmers say they are losing 50 percent or more of crops
*** Cow carcasses litter the landscape while plants wither in the summer sun
By Brian Byrnes
SAN MIGUEL DEL MONTE, Argentina (CNN) -- In a small farming town 105 kilometers (65 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires, farmers are struggling to nourish their crops and feed their animals. The worst drought in half a century has turned Argentina's once-fertile soil to dust and pushed the country into a state of emergency. [China' s biggest wheat producing provinces are also experiencing their worst drought in half a century. What a coincidence.]
Argentine farmers profited in years past from selling beef to the world, but some now struggle to feed their cattle.
Farmers say they are losing half of more of their crops to the drought that has parched the earth.
Cow carcasses litter the prairie fields and sun-scorched soy plants wither under the South American summer sun. Farmers are concerned about their livelihoods.
"I'm losing money. I can't afford to lose money all the time," said Juan Cahen D'Anvers, whose family has been farming in Argentina since the late 1700s. He owns 700 hectares (1,730 acres) in San Miguel del Monte, where he grows sunflowers and barley.
He says this year is one of the hardest he's ever had.
"Production is going to go down a minimum of 50 percent, maybe more. I don't know yet," he said.
Argentina is one of the world's breadbaskets, providing commodities such as soy, wheat, corn and beef to countries around the globe. In recent years, record-high prices for these products reaped millions of dollars for Argentine farmers, but since the global economic crisis hit, demand and profits have dropped. Now the drought is making matters even worse.
Cesar Gioia, another San Miguel del Monte farmer, said time is growing short.
"If it doesn't rain in the next 10 days, I will have to wipe out my entire corn crop, 90 hectares (220 acres)," he said. "The best I can do with it is feed it to my cows."
Facing pressure from farmers, Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced emergency measures this week that will exempt the worst-hit farmers from paying most taxes for one year.
"This is a big boost of patriotism, and a sign of support from all Argentines," Kirchner said on January 26. "All other sectors of the economy will continue to contribute, so we can help the farmers who have been affected by this drought."
Kirchner has had a contentious relationship with farmers, who staged noisy protests and strikes last year over an increase in export taxes. Those taxes eventually were reduced, but farming leaders still contend that the government is out of touch with their needs.
They say the measures announced this week fall short, and are demanding a cohesive, long-term plan for dealing with emergencies such as the current drought. If not, they say, they may strike again.
"Sure, this plan is approved now, and it helps, but we need money to feed cows, to go back to planting crops, because this drought is impacting life in every sector of society," said Eduardo Buzzi of the Argentine Agrarian Federation.
As she yanks dead soy plant vines from a dusty field in San Miguel del Monte, Lorena del Rios of the Argentina Rural Society says she expects the drought to affect both Argentine and overseas consumers, especially when it comes to Argentina's world-famous beef.
"We will see less meat available, which means rising prices," she said. "There is even the possibility that in a few years Argentina will have to import beef, which is almost unthinkable for people here."
Stratfor reports about Argentina' s drought and a parched economy.
Argentina: Drought and a Parched Economy
January 21, 2009 1414 GMT
[These graphics are from January 21. The drought has gotten worse since then.]
Now, a major drought is threatening Argentine agricultural production for 2009. According to the projections of the Buenos Aires Cereals Exchange published on Jan. 16, the country's wheat yield for 2009 will be 8.7 million metric tons, down from 16.3 million in 2008 [Wow. That is an enormous drop] (domestic wheat consumption in 2007 was approximately 6.7 million metric tons). Total wheat planting dropped by 350,000 hectares, or 8 percent, in the 2008 planting season, and the drought has affected what has already been sown. Corn production is projected to drop from its 2008 figure of 20.9 million metric tons to 16.5 million metric tons, with a reduction in crop planting by 26 percent from 3.2 million hectares in 2008 to 2.4 million in 2009. Soybean output, meanwhile, could fall to 40 million metric tons if the drought continues - a 7 million metric ton drop.
Particularly troubling are the wheat production numbers for 2009, now approaching the usual Argentine consumption numbers. Considering that Argentine farmers have very little incentive to keep their products at home, one can envision a scenario for 2009 in which the drought and domestic price caps combine to create a domestic shortage.
The Sacramento Bee reports about drought in California.
Water watchers cast a wary eye
By Matt Weiser
Published: Monday, Feb. 02, 2009
Water experts are having a hard time finding the right words to describe what lies ahead, after recording a dismally dry January in California.
"Scary," "grim," and possible "conservation mandates" are offered up.
Yet it's easy for the experts to sound out a clear warning: This may become, simply, the worst drought California has ever seen.
"Our worst fears appear to be materializing," said Wendy Martin, drought coordinator at the state Department of Water Resources. "It's going to be a huge challenge."
The bottom line, water officials said, is that right now, everyone must start using less water. The public can expect higher water bills and fines if they don't, because the alternative is a real water shortage — one that is threatening tens of thousands of Valley jobs.
"It's pretty scary," said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, who has more than three decades in the water-supply business. "The public needs to tighten their belts. You have to rearrange all the molecules in your brain to think about using water differently."
What worries the water gurus is not just a likelihood that 2009 may be a third dry year in a row, but what appears to be the state's dramatically reduced flexibility to respond.
Among the reasons:
— Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in an ecological crisis. It's the funnel for most of California's precipitation, but its ability to move water from north to south is compromised by the need to keep Delta fish from going extinct.
— California has added 10 million people since the last big drought in 1991, substantially boosting demand on the available supply.
— Farmers have shifted hundreds of thousands of acres to permanent crops such as fruit, nuts and grapes, which cannot be fallowed in droughts like the row crops they replaced.
Thousands of acres of row crops already have been fallowed [fallowing is when farmers let farmland don' t plant anything and let the land sit idle], and more will follow.
"The situation is very grim for all farmers," said Sarah Woolf, spokeswoman for the San Joaquin Valley's giant Westlands Water District, which warned customers they may not get any water this year. "There simply will be drastic fallowing and, in all likelihood, significant impacts that result in some businesses not making it through."
Richard Howitt, professor of resource economics at UC Davis, last week offered sobering numbers to the state Board of Food and Agriculture.
Using computer economic models and DWR water data, Howitt estimates 40,000 jobs will be lost, along with $1.15 billion in income.
But this is just the first splash of trouble, because Howitt's estimate applies only to areas of the Central Valley south of the Delta, and only in the farm sector.
It also relies upon DWR's most recent official estimate that its water contractors will get only 15 percent of normal deliveries. But a DWR official told The Bee last week that the next forecast, expected by mid-February, will almost certainly promise even less water.
All these factors mean the statewide economic impacts will increase substantially from current estimates, Howitt said. He expects this drought will be worse than those in 1977 and 1991, the most severe in modern times.
"What's eye-popping to me is these job losses," Howitt said. "If you say you're losing 40,000 jobs in small Valley towns where the people who are losing their jobs are least able to do anything about it, you're talking about real costs to people's living."
January is one of the months water officials had hoped would yield enough water to pull the state out of a two-year dry spell. But it did the opposite: January, often the wettest month of the year in California, was in 2009 one of the driest on record.
The statewide snowpack, in surveys conducted Thursday, proved to be just 61 percent of average. It was worse, at 49 percent, in the Northern Sierra, home to some of the state's most important reservoirs.
Rainfall totals mirror the bad news. Sacramento in January saw just 1.5 inches of rain, against the historical average of 4.2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Redding fared even worse, recording only 0.93 of an inch compared with the January average of 6.5 inches.
Water agencies throughout the state are scrambling to adopt conservation mandates — largely because many customers have so far failed to cut back enough on their use.
GlobalAtlanta.com reports about drought in Australia.
Lessons From Australia: Drought Can Help Georgia Economy
Atlanta - 02.02.09
Paul Dalby traveled to Atlanta from Australia with stories of a drought so severe that rivers stop flowing, lakes turn toxic and farmers abandon their land in frustration.
In a recent interview at the Australian Consulate General in Atlanta, Dr. Dalby told the story of the Murray River and what happened when Australia drained too much water out of it for human consumption. It is a story that may resonate in metro Atlanta, where the waters of the Chattahoochee River are at the center of a long-ranging federal court fight between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, involving an array of competing business, government and environmental interests.
“In 2002, really before we had the major effects of the big drought, the Murray River stopped flowing at its terminal point,” Dr. Dalby said. “The mouth of the river closed up.”
Before it reaches the Southern Ocean, the Murray drains into two large lakes that are surrounded by wetlands.
“Those systems (the lakes and the wetlands) were becoming a little bit salty because there was no freshwater flushing them,” said Dr. Dalby.
Salt kills freshwater lakes.
“So they had to dredge the river to keep it open ,” Dr. Dalby continued. “The dredging was supposed to last a year until the next flow came down. Then we had the drought, a very serious drought.”
The drought started in 2004 and has not relented, said Dr. Dalby.
"We had the driest years on record in that basin consecutively,” he said. “The water in the lower lakes is evaporating. There are some walls holding back the ocean from these lower lakes. But the water in the lakes is evaporating and is now a meter (3.2 feet) below sea level.” [scary]
Further drops could turn the lakes toxic.
“If they evaporate any further, the soil and the mud system below the water is going to be exposed to the air,” Dr. Dalby said. “It' s going to then acidify. It' s going to release sulfuric acid. It' s going to release a whole range of heavy metals. So those lower lake systems will essentially become a toxic swamp which will never be able to be recovered.”
Officials are seriously considering flooding the lakes with seawater to prevent acidification, but the destruction of freshwater lakes and wetlands would harm the migratory birds that nest there each year. And the seawater will evaporate, leaving behind a heavy salt residue.
“It will end up being a dead sea,” said Dr. Dalby. “Their options are: toxic swamp, dead sea or pray for rain.” [not exactly great options…]
On his trip to the United States, Dr. Dalby tried to instill in Americans how quickly climate can change and how drastic the effects can be. In Australia, he said, the debate over climate change is essentially over. Citizens have demanded government action and are getting it.
“Every state government and the federal government is developing a strategy to adapt to climate change as well as to reduce greenhouse emissions,” he said.
Bloomberg reports that food production chaos looms in Africa as soil quality worsens.
Food Production Chaos Looms in Africa as Soil Quality Worsens
By Jeremy van Loon
Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) -- African farmers and climate change are combining to damage soil at a rate that may plunge the continent, home to about 1 billion people, into chaos as food production declines.
“The situation is very severe and soil fertility is declining rapidly," Jeroen Huising, a scientist who studies soils at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, or CIAT, said today in an interview. "Many countries like Kenya already don't have enough food to feed their population and soil degradation is worsening an already critical situation."
Africa, where half the agricultural soil has lost nutrients necessary to grow plants, is hampered by a lack of information about soil conditions, Huising said. About 236 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or one in three there, are chronically hungry, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
A soil project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa will use mapping techniques and geographical information systems to help farmers and government officials choose the best options to improve agricultural land and slow the degradation of farmland, Cali, Colombia-based CIAT said in an e-mailed statement.
"Soil management in sub-Saharan Africa must be improved dramatically if we are to reduce poverty, feed growing populations and cope with the impact of climate change on agriculture," said CIAT's Nteranya Sanginga. The project, the African Soil Information Service, will help address climate change as well, Huising said.
Global warming is melting polar caps, raising sea levels in some parts of the world and inundating coastal farmland while in other regions climate changes have reduced rainfall, making soil more alkaline and spreading drought.
Pressure on freshwater resources, which make up 1 percent of the world's total water supply, is increasing as the global population is expected to rise to 9.3 billion people by 2050 from 6.7 billion now, according to UN estimates. As aquifers and rivers dry up in Africa and the Middle East, soils are also being destroyed by higher salt levels.
Bloomberg reports that food to rise on lack of credit.
Food to Rise on Lack of Credit, Nestle' s Brabeck Says
By Andreas Scholz and Thomas Mulier
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Food prices may rise because a lack of credit for farmers curbed their ability to buy seeds and fertilizers and may limit production, Nestle SA Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said.
Cocoa, used to make chocolate, reached its highest since at least 1989 in London on Jan. 29. Robusta coffee has advanced 8 percent this year, while the arabica variety is about 5 percent higher. Wheat, corn, rice and soybeans on the Chicago Board of Trade have all declined.
“Many farmers over the world didn' t have access in October, November, December for credits,” the chairman of the world' s biggest food company said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 31. “They were limited in acquiring seed and acquiring fertilizer.”
Prices of wheat, rice and corn rose to records last year, sparking riots from Haiti to Ivory Coast. World food production may drop in the next crop year as falling prices and the recession prompt farmers to lower investment and cut plantings, the United Nations said this month.
The UN' s food-price index fell for a sixth consecutive month in December to 148 points, from a peak of 219 in June.
Demand for cereals to use as animal feed is rising about 5.4 percent a year, while demand for cereals for people is increasing 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent, according to Brabeck.
“It is probable that in 2009 we have a decline in production and we will have an increase in demand,” the chairman said. “This will have another push on raw materials.”
My reaction: This is scary. With Northern China hit by worst drought in 50 years, 2009 looks set for a big drop in food production.
1) The worst drought in half a century has turned Argentina's once-fertile soil to dust and pushed the country into a state of emergency. Cow carcasses litter the prairie fields, and sun-scorched soy plants wither under the South American summer sun.
2) Argentina's "Production is going to go down a minimum of 50 percent, maybe more.” The country's wheat yield for 2009 will be 8.7 million metric tons, down from 16.3 million in 2008. With domestic wheat consumption in 2007 being approximately 6.7 million metric ton, Argentina's wheat exports are set to drop drastically.
3) California is facing its worst drought in recorded history. The drought is predicted to be the most severe in modern times, worse than those in 1977 and 1991.
4) Thousands of acres of row crops already have been fallowed, with more to follow.
5) The statewide snowpack proved to be just 61 percent of average, and the snowpack in the Northern Sierra, home to some of the state's most important reservoirs, was only 49 percent. Sacramento in January saw just 1.5 inches of rain, against the historical average of 4.2 inches.
6) Water agencies throughout the state are scrambling to adopt conservation mandates.
7) Australia has been experiencing an un relenting drought since 2004. The drought has been so severe that rivers stopped flowing, lakes turned toxic and farmers abandoned their land in frustration
8) The Murray River stopped flowing at its terminal point, and its mouth has closed up.
9) The water in the lower lakes is evaporating. There are some walls holding back the ocean from these lower lakes. But the water in the lakes is evaporating and is now a meter (3.2 feet) below sea level.
10) If these lakes evaporate any further, the soil and the mud system below the water is going to be exposed to the air. It's going to then acidify and release sulfuric acid. It's also going to release a whole range of heavy metals. So those lower lake systems will essentially become a toxic swamp which will never be able to be recovered. Australian government' s options for these lakes are: toxic swamp, dead sea or pray for rain.
11) For some reason, the debate over climate change is essentially over in Australia.
12) In Africa, half the agricultural soil has lost nutrients necessary to grow plant. The situation is very severe and soil fertility is declining rapidly.
13) A lack of credit for farmers curbed their ability to buy seeds and fertilizers in 2008/2009 and may limit production around the world.
Conclusion: Food prices are going to rise, big time.