Drought offers food for sustainable thought


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Take a snapshot of corn and soybean crops anywhere in the Midwest, Great Plains and South, and the resulting picture isn’t what you’d expect for this time of year. Parched farmland cries out for water, and half of the country’s corn crop and almost 40% of the soybean crop is in poor or very poor condition. As the worst drought in 50 years continues, farmers are struggling to hold onto a way of life, world leaders are worrying about a global food crisis and a food system is being questioned.

Less corn, soy crops mean higher food prices

The United States is the largest producer of soy and corn in the world. Corn and soy is a key ingredient in nearly 100% of the processed food available in any neighborhood supermarket, which means in a bad year it’s not just corn on the cob that gets more expensive. Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said that since June 1, the price of corn has risen 38%. Such food companies as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Archer Daniels Midland and Smithfield Foods are already seeing food costs rise.

It’s not just processed food that could see a spike in food prices but also meat and milk. Farmers often feed animals using food made from corn. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the results of the drought could mean food prices will rise by as much as 4% in 2013.

Eating local can offset impact of drought

Short of a rain dance working there’s no easy solution to the drought, but there are things that can offset your own food costs. The local food trend is already popular among a certain group of individuals, but according to Jonathan White of the German Marshall Fund’s International Development Project, buying local is a short-term solution to rising food prices. White told the Global Post that buying local and regional food reduces the cost of food as it cuts down on shipping food and also helps to generate a local market by allowing farmers to produce and sell food locally. There has never been a better time to fall in love with a farmers market.

Eating local will only go so far. The harsh reality that many locavores won’t admit is that local farms are not producing enough food to feed the U.S. population, and most people aren’t willing to make the trade-offs. Take pasture-raised pigs for instance. There aren’t enough slaughterhouses for small farmers, which means farmers have to drive hundreds of miles to other slaughterhouses, adding costs, stress to the animals and a greater environmental impact coming from that food. Then there’s the whole “want what we want when we want it” attitude. Tomatoes aren’t ripe all year round, but that doesn’t mean people are willing to give them up for part of the year.

Drought offers opportunity to rethink food sustainability

The current drought is an opportunity for local farmers to produce sustainable food and for people to actually buy it. It’s also a chance to think about how to revamp the U.S. food system to make buying local, sustainable food a viable option for feeding the country’s population.