Nutrition-wise blog

Will the drought increase food prices?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. August 1, 2012

It's been a long, dry summer. And the effects are expected to persist into next year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that drought conditions in the U.S. are likely to push up food prices:

  • Beef, pork, poultry and dairy retail prices will increase in the next few months and into next year. This is due to the increase in the price of feed (corn). At first prices for meat may decrease as farmers sell off animals. However, as the supply lessens the prices will rebound.
  • Packaged or processed foods, such as grains, cereals and bakery products, will cost more, but the increase may take 10 to 12 months to appear.
  • Vegetable and fruit prices aren't expected to increase. Most of these are irrigated crops.

This news is scary. Scary for those with failing crops and farm animals. Scary for those on a tight food budget. Scary for those with food-related jobs who may see their businesses fail.

If there is a silver lining to this, it may be that we have a window of time to take stock of what we have on hand, make the most of it and hopefully lessen the impact:

  • Take stock of staples. Check your canned goods and nonperishables such as rice, beans, lentils and flour. How do you currently use them? How should you use them? Do you need more?
  • Cook wisely. Prepare only what you're sure you will eat. Keep peelings, bones and scraps to make your own soup stock. If you have leftovers, make them over into salads, soups and sandwiches.
  • Put up produce. Take advantage of summer produce. Learn how to preserve foods for later.
  • Plan ahead. Make plans now to have a garden or patio plot to grow some of your own food next year.
  • Don't forget those in need. Remember to give to food pantries.

Another important step is to adjust your eating habits. Here's how:

  • "Right size" portion sizes. When you eat less, you save more — and there will be more for others and less demand to drive prices up. Remember that the serving size of meat or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards. For fish it is about the size of a checkbook.
  • Don't buy unhealthy grain-based snacks. Instead purchase whole-grain cereals and bread. Don't throw ends away — make stuffing for a side dish.
  • Eat more dried beans and lentils. Use those staples and canned products. Same is true for what you have in your refrigerator and freezer. Don't let items expire — don't feed food to your garbage can.

Many people are doing these things already. If many more join in, the impact of the drought may not be as scary. What are your thoughts? Share your ideas about what more we can do.

- Jennifer

Aug. 01, 2012