Agribusiness is probably the nation's most under-reported industry, which means that much of the recent coverage about crop damage is being handled by newspeople who - how shall I put this - don't know what they're talking about. Last night's evening news on CBS made it seem as if the drought would lead the country to another recession. Soon. Certainly, the lack of rainfall, especially in the nation's midsection, is a serious matter for the farming business, but its effect on the overall economy is less clear cut. While Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer says that corn, soybean and wheat prices have soared, the impact will be more pronounced on producer prices than consumer prices. From Business Insider:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already warned that over 1,000 counties across America are natural disaster areas because of the drought which will hurt corn and soybean yields. In fact, only 40 percent of soybeans were said to be in "good or excellent" condition, and farmers expect their corn harvest to be down 12 percent from their June prediction. Farmers are seeing their costs rise and yields fall. "Farmers are able to sustain irrigation, but at a high price," according to Meyer and her team. "They will have to use water from wells, which drains power and is costly. In addition, they will have to be creative in feeding cattle given scorched grasslands."
"Worst-in-Generation Drought Dims U.S. Farm Economy Hopes" trumpets a Bloomberg story, but near the end of the piece there's this:
Yet with agriculture's modest share of the U.S. economy, a single season's drought may have little lasting impact on the national economy, said Bruce Babcock, an economics professor at Iowa State University in Ames. Even the impact on food prices will likely be fleeting, he said. "If it's a one-year drought you'll see some impact on food-price indexes, but it will be a one-time shot," said Babcock. "It won't be a sustained inflation."
Adding to the confusion were recent news reports about several California counties, including Kern, Inyo, Kings, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura, being designated as federal disaster areas. However, the designation is not the result of drought damage, but losses caused by freezing temperatures, excessive rain, and high winds several months back. Meanwhile, L.A.-area food costs increased just 0.2 percent in June and 2.1 percent over June 2011. That's well below the 4 percent levels at the end of last year. It's possible this will still turn out to be a big story, though so far it seems a bit hyped up.