Texas Wildfires Threaten Wheat Crop, Drive Food Prices Higher
This month, raging wildfires in Texas have killed two firefighters, burned over a million acres of land and threatened thousands of homes. Three years of record droughts throughout the state have left fields full of dry and dead vegetation, making fighting the spread of wildfire flames extremely difficult.
As firefighters from around the country and the National Guard continue to battle the many blazes scattered across the state, with no immediate end to the crisis in sight, the future looks bleak for Texas farmers. Many farmers’ fields were already damaged by drought, and now some crops have been further harmed by smoke or entirely destroyed by flame.
Some agricultural experts are now predicting that Texas will lose two thirds of this year’s wheat crop to drought and fire. And Texas is not the only U.S. state suffering from widespread crop damage this spring; Kansas and Oklahoma are also dealing with serious drought conditions, while Iowa and Minnesota are facing predictions of major floods.
Speculation that U.S. grain production will be unusually low this year drove wheat prices to a two-month high on Tuesday, which may have been good news for certain commodities speculators, but was bad news for pretty much everyone else on the planet.
Food prices worldwide have already been on the climb for several months, alarming international agencies that track the global economy. The World Bank recently reported that prices of basic food staples have risen 36% globally over last year.
Though some of the ongoing increase in the cost of food has been linked to increased global demand for expensive, energy-intensive dairy and meat, the food supply has been strained repeatedly over the last several years due to natural disasters linked to global climate change.
As I reported in November, last year, epic flooding in Pakistan and droughts and wildfires in Russia destroyed crops and drove food prices higher in 2010. In February of this year, typhoon-related flooding in Australia contributed to yet another spike in the price of grain.
All three of these historically unprecedented natural disasters–the floods in Pakistan, the wildfires in Russia and the storms in Australia–were linked by scientists to global climate change.
And the drought and wildfires now destroying crops and homes in Texas fit a pattern already predicted by climate scientists. A 2010 study by the National Resources Defense Council found that Texas would be one of many states faced with increasingly dry and barren conditions as global temperatures rise.
It seems reasonable to conclude that, as climate change fuels larger and more devastating droughts, storms and floods across the globe, food prices will continue to rise right along with the global temperature. The only way to cool the overheated food market may be to stop overheating the Earth.
USDA photo of a wildfire, public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.