Climate disasters and unregulated commodity speculation have combined to send food prices through the roof this year. Families across the United States will be struggling to put together a celebratory feast, and food pantries will be barer even as more people are in need. The American Farm Bureau Federation has calculated that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for ten will cost about 13 percent more this year, up to $49.20 from last year’s $43.47. The AFBF survey shopping list includes “turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk.”
The year 2011 has been one of the most extreme ever for weather disasters. Below, ThinkProgress Green discusses a few examples of how our increasingly dangerous weather, poisoned by hundreds of billions of tons of greenhouse pollution, is jacking up the costs of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
Retail turkey prices are up 23 percent, an average $1.35 a pound instead of $1.10 last year. Wholesale prices on the East Coast for turkeys are up 26 percent this year to a record $1.18. The super-hot summer killed turkeys and slowed weight gain. The two main commodities that go into a turkey are feed corn and soybeans, and prices for both have gone up sharply. The U.S. is “reaping its smallest corn harvest in three years” after a drought and the hottest summer since 1955 in the Midwest damaged what was a record crop as recently as July, driving annual prices to record highs. Average temperatures in the Midwest were as much as 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in July, and a stretch from Illinois to Indiana had its driest ever conditions for that month.
The average retail price for a pound of pecans rose from $7 in 2008 to $9 last year, and it’s expected to be about $11 this year. Drought in the Southeast has dramatically reduced the pecan crop. Production in Texas, which has had a record drought, dropped the most, from 70 million pounds last year to an estimated 40 million pounds this year. In Louisiana, production plunged from 20 million pounds last year to an estimated 9 million pounds this year. The entire U.S. crop is expected to be less than 252 million pounds this year, roughly 14 percent smaller than last year. “I’ve been farming for 60 or more years, and this is the driest I’ve ever seen,” said Ben Littlepage, a grower in the central Louisiana town of Colfax.
The cost of canned pumpkin is up more than 13 percent this year from last. Hurricane Irene wiped out pumpkin crops in flooded fields throughout the Northeast. Flooded fields meant not only waterlogged pumpkins that rotted on the vine but also fungus, mold and mildew.
WHIPPED CREAM, BUTTER, MILK
Dairy prices are extremely volatile, but have risen considerably, primarily because of the extreme hay shortage in the nation. Hay prices have nearly doubled because of drought in Texas, Florida, and the rest of the Southeast.
The sustainability director of Starbucks, Jim Hanna, said that the company’s coffee bean suppliers, “who are mainly in Central America, were already experiencing changing rainfall patterns and more severe pest infestations” because of global warming pollution. “Even in very well established coffee plantations and farms, we are hearing more and more stories of impacts,” with worse droughts, storms, and floods. Extreme weather has damaged crops from Colombia to Indonesia this year.
Commodity volatility is being grossly amplified by that rampant and unregulated speculation in commodity markets and their derivatives, as Wall Street financiers have sought profit-making schemse after the housing bubble collapsed. Better Markets does a good job laying out how index funds are running amok, distorting commodity markets.
The demand pressure on corn to produce ethanol is not a major factor in the extreme price spike, since that demand is known ahead of time, allowing farmers to plant enough. The biofuels mandates do help set the floor for corn prices, and speculators exploit the situation of the commodity having a price floor but no ceiling.
Sadly, the American Farm Bureau Federation — which claims to represents the interests of American farmers — is run by global warming deniers.
Matt Yglesias discusses the emergence of high- and low-end markets for turkey.