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Wednesday, July 9, 2008 01:01 am

Ripple effect

Add the recent floods to factors driving up food prices

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Mississippi River floodwaters engulf a farm north of Quincy in mid-June.
PHOTO BY MICHAEL TERCHA/MCT

Maybe it’s time to consider going vegetarian. The recent Midwestern floods, on top of cool, rainy weather earlier this year, are sure to push meat prices higher, Illinois agriculture experts say. Almost like biblical wrath, the waters swirled through the farm fields this spring and summer in torrential downpours and flooding. The water drowned out emerging corn and set back planting all over the region. “There are an awful lot of acres besides what’s been lost in the floods,” says Cimeron Frost of the Illinois Beef Association. “We have also lost corn to the rains. In counties like Champaign and Piatt [which are often the highest corn producers] we lost quite a few acres to ponding. The corn had its feet wet so long it was soppy, and this will reduce the yields.”
The recent floods affected a huge swath of the Midwest, from Iowa to Indiana, but the region was already hurting. “We already had a cold, wet spring and crops in this area were already late,” says Lori Weaver, editor of the Rockford-based Feed Industry Network, which produces a variety of ag-related trade publications. Rod Weinzierl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, says heavy and prolonged rainfall also affected southern-Illinois growing regions. “They are way behind the optimal planting dates, and their averages won’t be as good,” he says. “Some farmers have planted fields two to three times. Some south of Route 64 have just given up,” Frost says. Corn growers with flooded acreage have switched to soybeans or other crops.  “Some farmers are switching corn to beans or sorghum and milo,” Weinzierl says. “Some farmers just kept planting corn on bean acres rather than switch, and some are even harvesting wheat and double-cropping corn, which I’ve never seen before.”
Weaver says it’s clear that grain prices will continue to climb. Livestock producers are likely to respond, she says, by “sending animals off younger and sooner. “Initially there will probably be a slight dip in meat prices for consumers because of more meat on the market, but this will be temporary. The slight dip will be when the animals hit market, but then beyond that you will see meat prices climb higher along with corn and fuel prices.”
Frost agrees. Come fall, he says, meat prices in groceries will be higher: “When you drive up the price of feed, and it is terribly high now, we will see a lot of cattle reduced in the coming year. If producers can’t make a profit, they won’t feed or raise cattle. It will be fall before it impacts the consumer.”

Cindy Ladage of Virden is a regular
contributor who writes about agriculture.
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