Drought in western and northern Great Plains states could impact consumer costs and availability woes for wheat-, barley- and bean-based products, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
David Anderson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, Bryan-College Station, said consumers may have become accustomed to inconsistent product availability due to pandemic-related disruptions, but this round of potentially short supplies is driven by weather.
Anderson said the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture report showed how drought in the western half of the country could add to the list of food and beverages that have experienced price increases over the past two years.
Drought led to fewer acres planted and yields well below average for many crops. Reduced production contributed to supply and demand scenarios that could mean higher prices on wheat-based products from flour to pasta and barley-based products like beer and animal feed. There was also significant reduction in the production of dried peas and beans, including pinto, light and dark red kidney, and varieties utilized in flash frozen bags of fresh produce and black-eyed peas.
“Anyone who has looked at the drought monitor or watched the news knows what is going on in California and up into states like North Dakota and Montana where a lot of these crops come from that go into flour to make cookies and cakes,” Anderson said. “This could be a classic example of food price inflation where we may see pressure on supplies and consumer costs go up accordingly. But this time price increases aren’t due to labor shortages or logistics or growing demand, it’s just Mother Nature.”
Drought cuts wheat production
Durum wheat, which is used for pasta, is among the crops that experienced a severe production decline compared to last year. The crop is typically grown in northern climates like North Dakota and Montana and in the Southwest where it relies on irrigation.
The USDA report showed Durum wheat production will likely be down 50% from last year, Anderson said. Acres were down to 1.44 million acres from 1.66 million in 2020, and yields were down 41.4% year over year.
Production of other spring wheats were forecast to be down 41% compared to last year, according to the report. A lot of Texas producers grow hard red winter wheats, which typically go toward bread production. Unlike many of the wheat-growing areas, they experienced above-average growing conditions and yields this season.
“Texas yields were up 30% compared to last year, and we planted 200,000 more acres, so our production helped,” he said. “But reduced production of a lot of these other crops means we are likely to see some price increases, if not already.”
Barley yields down
Production of barley also took a measurable dive this year, Anderson said. Barley acres were down slightly, but yields were down more than 33% to 51.6 bushels per acre compared to 77.5 bushels per acre in 2020.
Anderson said barley comes primarily from northern Great Plains states with some production in California, Arizona and Colorado. Barley varieties are grown primarily for malting and feed products.
A lot of malting barley is grown on contract, but the shorter-than-expected supplies, especially of specific varieties for certain buyers, could mean lower supplies of specific products consumers are looking for.
Supply stocks are also lower than last year, Anderson said. There were 71.7 million bushels in storage compared to 80.2 million at this point last year.
“That’s a pretty big decline in yields,” he said. “It shows the effects drought can have on these crops. It’s too early to say the word ‘shortage,’ but you could certainly see certain products’ availability be pressured more than usual.”
Beans and peas fall short
Dry, edible beans, which also include black-eyed peas, were also impacted by drought in western states, Anderson said. Lower production could translate into higher prices for pinto, kidney, lima and navy beans at grocers and for dishes at restaurants.
The acreage of these crops is relatively small compared to commodity crops, but Anderson said their place in the American food supply can become evident when acres fall short of expectations. For instance, California, the biggest producer of black-eyed peas, harvested 3,700 acres this season compared to 8,000 acres last year.
“The impact is felt in the grocery stores and in restaurants,” he said. “Some consumers may not notice it, but if you’re a restaurant that serves pinto beans or red beans and rice, they are going to feel it, and their customers may feel it.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Temperatures were average for August. Drier conditions allowed for quick harvest of remaining corn. Sorghum stubble was baled. Most grains were harvested. Some cotton was still under irrigation, and most fields were nearing harvest. Producers continued cutting and baling hay. Forage grasses were quickly drying down and going dormant with a decline in soil moisture; but grazing forages and row crop stubble was still available. Producers were spraying for fall armyworm to protect forage grass yields, and treatments were likely to continue into late fall. Field preparation was underway for the planting of winter forages and winter wheat, however a decent rainfall will be required before planting begins. Growers expect to plant a bit more winter wheat this fall. Livestock were doing well on pasture, and overall body conditions were good.
The weather was hot and dry. Cooler temperatures and heavy dew were reported in areas. Cotton looked good and was being pushed to maturity by continuous heat. Most corn and sorghum fields were harvested. Corn yields were 70-90 bushels per acre; and test weights for sorghum were 3,500-4,500 pounds per acre. Late-planted sorghum was not expected to produce well. Wheat was starting to be dusted in amid dry conditions. Good stores of native range were available heading into fall. Grazing conditions were still green and looked good in parts of the district while other areas were starting to brown due to lack of moisture. There were reports of headworm pressure in millet. Dodder vine was showing up in pastures. Armyworms disappeared, but moths were flying again. Cattle looked excellent, and calves were going to be heavy at weaning. Producers were expected to hold onto calves and take advantage of good grazing because of a lack of stocker cattle at sale barns. Ranchers were also reporting excess hay bales. Sudan patches produced heavy yields this season.
Some areas received scattered showers while much of the district remained dry. Producers were trying to catch up with stalk shredding, discing and plowing. Corn and rice harvests were nearly complete. Cotton harvest continued with varying stages of progress. Gin yards were filling up, and it looked like another good year for cotton despite issues at the beginning of the season. Hay baling was continuing with above-average yields. Areas needed more rain to finish the hay season. Land preparation for winter pastures was underway, and early planting should begin in coming weeks. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good in most areas, but drier, hotter weather caused some browning, especially on lighter soils. Cattle remained in good condition with steady to higher prices at auction.
Hay production continued. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were adequate to short, and more rain will be needed over much of the district. Houston County reported an outstanding number of bales per acre being produced. Hot, dry weather seemed to be slowing grass growth down in many areas. Producers were planning fall gardens and winter pastures. Pasture and rangeland conditions were good, and livestock were doing fair to good. Armyworms continued to be a concern in pastures, and feral hogs remained a problem for many producers.
No measurable rain was reported. Cotton continued to progress and was setting bolls as producers started shutting off irrigation for the season. Dryland cotton and irrigated cotton was in very good condition. Producers were hoping to avoid an early frost before cotton bolls finish maturing. Early planted corn was ready for harvest, and the rest will be ready soon. Sorghum was maturing and coloring. Silage cutting started. Cattle were in good condition. Peanuts were in good condition and progressing well.
Northern and central areas reported short to adequate soil moisture levels while southern areas reported very short to short levels. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good, as were cotton and soybean conditions. Corn was dented, and sorghum was coloring. The district needed rain to finish off summer crops and to plant winter wheat.
Soil moisture levels were mostly short across the district, and conditions continued to decline due to high temperatures and lack of rainfall. A light cool front provided some relief from the heat. Summer grasses were showing signs of moisture stress. Warm-season crop harvest season was underway. Corn and sorghum yields were good to average with some reports of poor harvests. Hay baling continued as ranchers were scrambling to put away as much as they could. Cattle still looked good, but grain prices were going to be a concern. Armyworms, aphids and other insect pests were prevalent.
Conditions were dry. Cotton looked good but needed some moisture. Pecan crops continued to progress nicely but will need some rain over the next few weeks. Armyworms, grasshoppers and sugarcane aphids were pressuring forages and crops. A lot of sorghum and corn fields were harvested. Pastures looked good. Cattle markets were strong and active.
Nighttime temperatures dipped into the high 60s. Conditions were holding but additional moisture would help. Rice continued to progress, but pastures were dry and needed rain. Rangeland and pasture ratings ranged from excellent to poor with good ratings being most common. Soil moisture levels ranged from adequate to surplus with adequate levels being most common.
Trace precipitation up to an inch of rain was reported across the district. Rangelands and pastures were in good condition but were drying due to warmer temperatures. Cotton was slowly maturing. Row crop and hay harvests continued as field conditions allowed. Farmers were preparing winter wheat fields. Livestock were in fair to good condition and on supplementation in areas with drier conditions. Livestock markets were good. Wildlife were being supplemented in drier areas.
Extremely hot temperatures significantly changed subsoil and topsoil moisture conditions throughout the district. Jim Hogg County reported a high temperature of 101 degrees. Soil moisture conditions were very short to short in most areas. Jim Wells County reported 1-1.5 inches of rainfall that improved pastures and rangelands significantly. A small area in Zavala County also reported up to 1 inch of rainfall during a flash downpour, but the rest of the county remained dry. Grain sorghum was mostly harvested and should be complete soon. Some late-planted corn should be harvested soon. Cotton harvest was complete and appeared to be good in some areas, and defoliation was about to begin in other areas. Cotton modules were awaiting pickup and shipping to area gins. Peanuts were growing well under irrigation. Forages were browning due to heat and lack of moisture. Early strawberries were being planted and ground preparation will start soon for the main crop. Fields were being prepared for small grains. Watermelon and cantaloupe fields continued to produce, but yields were beginning to decline. Irrigated Coastal Bermuda grass was producing good bales. Sugarcane and citrus were being irrigated. Some vegetable fields with drip irrigation were planted. Row crop farmers were shredding and tilling in stubble. Pasture and rangeland conditions were declining. Ranchers were storing hay and many reported three cuttings this season. Cattle were in good conditions, markets were very good, and ranchers were shipping calves. Feed prices continued to increase. Supplemental feeding was increasing as well. Stock tanks needed replenishing in some areas but were full in others. Summer conditions were good for deer and quail, but drier conditions were pushing deer to browse along roadways. Quail coveys appeared above average and healthy. Chronic Wasting Disease in deer was reported in Duval County. Producers were preparing for South Zone dove season, and sunflower fields were still standing for now.