The driest season: Global drought causes major worries

Story highlights

  • Ukraine to Yellowstone, in Pakistan and Kazakhstan, the earth is parched
  • Drought in the Black Sea region has led to decrease in wheat, raised export prices
  • Late monsoon season in India and Pakistan has put plants at risk
Hurricane Isaac may have inundated the parishes of Louisiana, but for thousands of American farmers, it was a blessing, a reprieve from the most torrid summer on record.
In much of North America, July was the hottest month since such a record was first taken. Crop yields have fallen sharply; thousands of livestock have been lost.
The Midwest has suffered its worst drought in 56 years, and the International Grains Council has cut its forecast for the U.S. maize harvest by 25 million tons.
The relief from last week's rain may help planting conditions for winter wheat, but it's come too late to make much difference to summer crops. And it didn't even reach Iowa and Nebraska; 71% of Nebraska is now in "exceptional drought," the highest level on the scale.
On Thursday, the Federal Reserve of St. Louis reported that drought had ravaged farmers' income expectations in seven states, including Illinois and Missouri.
Although the drought was not discussed much at either party's convention, President Obama repeated his belief that our climate is changing.
"More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They're a threat to our children's future," he told the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The farmers and ranchers of the American heartland are not alone. According to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the land surface temperature in the Northern Hemisphere was the warmest ever in July, 2.14 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average.
From Ukraine to Yellowstone, in Pakistan and Kazakhstan, the skies have stayed clear, and the earth has been parched. And on the world's commodity exchanges, the prices of corn, soybeans, wheat and tea are surging. The World Bank's food price index rose 10% in July.
Drought in the Black Sea region -- which includes the bread baskets of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan -- has led to a sharp reduction in the forecast wheat harvest and pushed up export prices, putting further strain on the budgets of North African countries that import much of Russia's grain.
Russia expects its grain surplus for export to be 5 million tons lower than last year.
The three United Nations agencies involved in promoting food security warned this week, "We need to act urgently to make sure that these price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe hurting tens of millions over the coming months."
Meager monsoon
Far from the plains, there's also anxiety about the late and lame monsoon season in India and Pakistan. Rainfall in most places has been far below average, putting the new planting season at risk.
Ali Kachelo is the fifth generation of