MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Flooding across the upper Midwest will likely be felt not just across the region but around the world. Relentless rains have stunted the corn crop and that has sent the price of corn, a basic ingredient in everything from soft drinks to livestock feed to fuel, through the roof.
Frank Morris of member station KCUR in Kansas City reports.
FRANK MORRIS: The vivid green, rolling countryside of southwest Iowa is beautiful, but a closer look reveals something wrong. Looking at the cornfield in front of Ron Dumpy's(ph) place, you notice there's no corn in it.
Mr. RON DUMPY (Farmer): Where we're standing, at least, there's a inch to two inches water standing on it, and that's all below the growth of eight to 12 inches of weeds. It just keeps raining and raining.
MORRIS: It's been too wet for Dumpy to plant this field. In his other fields, weeds dwarf runty pale cornstalks because it's too muddy to weed and fertilize. The muck spreads across wide swaths of prime corn ground in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska. Dumpy's 65, the fifth generation to farm this land and he's never seen the likes of this.
Mr. DUMPY: Well, it's been my greatest challenge in 36 years. Whether that's been from snow, or drought, or water. It just - we've not had the opportunity to do what we do for a living. Mother Nature keeps interfering with us.
MORRIS: And her timing is terrible. Mounting demand, speculation, and the weak dollar had already pushed corn prices to record levels. This week the USDA predicted that corn production would plummet 10 percent from last year. That shot the price past $7.00 a bushel, approaching triple what it was two years ago, leaving analysts like Jason Ward scratching their heads.
Mr. JASON WARD (Analyst): I hesitate to say catastrophic level, but I don't know a better word for it.
MORRIS: American farmers are far and away the biggest corn producers, and David Swenson, an economist with Iowa State University, says the world was counting on a bumper crop here.
Mr. DAVID Swenson (Economist): What happens in Australia or Brazil or up here in the Corn Belt has global consequences. It's not just for corn farmers and people who eat corn flakes. It has consequences for everybody in the United States.
MORRIS: Everybody who eats, that is; beef, cattle, chicken and hogs are largely fed corn. Milk and all the things that it makes come from dairy cows that often eat corn. Corn syrup and corn starch show up in all kinds of foods. Corn has even pushed up the price of wheat and soybeans; it may eventually drive up the price of driving.
(Soundbite of machinery)
MORRIS: The POET plant near Corning, Iowa chugs on day and night, churning out millions of gallons of ethanol. Operations like this already consume more than a quarter of the corn crop and that figure is mounting as mandates for using ethanol grow. Jason Ward(ph) expects supply to tighten and prices to rise as dozens of new ethanol plants, scheduled to come online this year, try to sit out the high corn prices.
Mr. JASON WARD: They will not grind corn because the result of grinding that corn will be large losses.
MORRIS: Back on Ron Dumpy's farm, the losses are hitting harder.
(Soundbite of hog squealing)
MORRIS: Dumpy raises livestock in addition to his crops. His hogs and cattle eat more corn than he can grow in a good year. Corn is always a big expense for Dumpy. This year it's going to be a whole lot bigger.
Mr. DUMPY: The feed that's fed to them is 80 percent of cost of the pig. Yeah, it hurts. There's nothing left in the pocketbook or the checking account.
MORRIS: Some economists see lots of operations like Dumpy's going under and meat prices jumping maybe another 10 percent. Dumpy though is still hoping to salvage his corn harvest if the weather cooperates. As of last tally, more than half the nation's corn crop was still in pretty good shape. And farmers who get a good harvest this year stand to make a bundle. But if the rains keep coming, this week's gloomy USDA corn production forecast may turn out to be overly optimistic.
From NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.
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