Reuters  |  Updated: 01/07/2013

The U.S. Corn Belt – the world’s top grain region – is seeing another dry winter after the worst summer drought in half a century, reducing prospects for a bumper summer harvest that would help ease global food prices, crop and climate experts said.

“We are still concerned about getting the leftovers out of the way from the drought of 2012. At this time we would not anticipate a national corn yield above the trend,” said Iowa State University climatologist Elwynn Taylor, who has studied crop production for decades. “Rather, we would expect a fourth consecutive year of below-trend crop, not as far below as in 2012 but still not up to par.”

The 2012 drought locked two-thirds of the U.S. continental land mass in severe drought last summer, cutting production of the biggest crop, corn, by 27 percent from early season estimates.

The U.S. supplies more than half of world exports of corn, which is the top livestock feed for meat and dairy animals, the main feedstock for ethanol production, and the leading ingredient in dozens of food and industrial products from vegetable oil to sweeteners, paints and plastics. As such, its price is a key for food inflation and its supply outlook is closely watched by Federal Reserve policymakers, bankers, farm suppliers and food processors.

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