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Drought and Floods Hitting Agricultural Production

23 January 2012, at 3:44pm

GLOBAL - A strange mixture of drought and foods appears to be affecting agricultural and livestock production across the Americas - both North and South.

In the US, crop lands in the Mississippi were devastated earlier this year when they were flooded - deliberately flooded by breeching the levees to avert potential disaster.

It appears that while it may have stopped uncontrolled damage, the destruction to farm land, washing away fertile soil, was far higher than at first was expected.

The details of the destruction and the impacts of the induced levee breeches have been outlined in a report on agricultural lands of Mississippi River Valley can be seen in a research published in the January - February 2012 issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.

However, while these floods caused destruction to crop lands with a knock-on effect to corn and cereal production, lately areas of the southern states have been struck by drought.

In Texas rainfall this winter has varied from five inches in some East Texas counties to one to three inches in Central and North Texas.

Official statistics show that as of 10 January, about 62 per cent of the state was rated as being under severe to extreme drought.

This is an improvement from a week earlier when more than 70 per cent of the state was under drought conditions and a vast improvement from October when 97 per cent of the state was experiencing severe to extreme drought.

Scott Strawn, AgriLife Extension agent for Ochiltree County in the north eastern Panhandle said that wheat was in better condition thanks to moisture received in December, but while fields are up to a good standard, subsoil moisture below six inches is very dry.

The drought has meant that cattle farmers are having to supplement feed in some areas and in others as calving is starting, herds are being reduced because of lack of pasture.

The Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report from the USDA published last week showed how the drought is now hitting beef production in the southern states of the US.

It says that while pastures and ranges have improved with recent rain and if it continues it could alleviate the [present drought situation, the La Niña effect is expected to continue at least into spring of 2012 and could affect precipitation patterns in 2012 as it did in 2011.

These conditions have led to an increased cow slaughter - largely beef cows - almost five per cent up on last year and 14 per cent up on 2009.

"Total annual commercial cow slaughter has been observed at current levels only one time since 1987-in 1996, also a drought year," the report says.

Further details of the drought impact are expected at the end of the month in the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) semi-annual Cattle inventory report, however, the atypically large cow slaughter has fuelled speculation that there will be a year-on-year decline in beef cow inventories, especially in Southern States, and a decline in heifer inventories as well.

Despite this, high feed prices have held prices up for beef farmers in the US.

While in the US, the Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report shows a slight rise in pig meat production and a drop in poultry production, South American farmers are being hit similarly to those in Texas by drought.

The drought in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is forcing grain prices up and having almost crippling effects on the poultry industry in particular.

A report in El Pais in Argentina shows that high temperatures are not only affecting grain and milk production but also poultry farmers who have seen a 15 per cent loss of boilers in their shed because of the heat.

The poultry market in South America has closely followed the rise in grain prices in the international market.

The USDA has forecast that there are going to be new lows in corn and soybean production in South America and this will eventually drive up prices as shortages bite.