Droughts Worldwide May Have an Effect on American Dinner Plates

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
By Paul Martin

Apr. 7, 2014

’s been a long, cold and wet winter in parts of the United States. But in many parts of the world, from California to Southeast Asia, the land is parched from growing and persistent droughts. And that spells higher prices for many foods Americans put on the table during every meal.

That morning cup of coffee, for example, could cost a bit more as the beans rise to their highest prices in years due to a Brazilian drought. A salad at lunch full of fresh fruit and vegetables topped with slivered almonds may run a few more dollars a month as California’s drought begins to boost prices for produce and nuts.

And the classic American dinner of a cheeseburger, French fries and a milkshake is already more expensive due to rapidly rising beef and dairy prices underpinned by drought.

From the American consumer’s perspective, the good news is the drought will almost certainly not cause a food shortage, according to Richard Volpe, a research economist with the food markets branch at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.

“We are a highly developed nation, highly industrialized, and our international trade relations in terms of agriculture are very strong and very adaptable,” he told NBC News. “So food availability is not really a concern.”

The most immediate concern for Americans is the drought in California, which holds strong potential to drive up prices, particularly for fresh fruits and vegetables as well as dairy, he explained.

As of now, however, “we don’t have any data yet on the impact of this drought,” Volpe said.

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