Make us your home page

Submerged Midwest farms mean higher food prices

Iowa's waterlogged corn may not be knee high by the Fourth of July, as an old saw goes, but food prices at home and abroad almost certainly will shoot up.

Flooding that has inundated large parts of the U.S. corn belt could contribute to substantial price increases in bacon, ham, buffalo wings and other products from corn-fed hogs and chickens. And developing countries where corn is a dietary staple may feel an even greater pinch because they rely so heavily on U.S. imports.

The impact on food prices "is going to be significant or major,'' predicts David Pimentel, a professor of agriculture sciences at Cornell University.

The United States is the world's leading corn producer, and much of that corn is grown in states hardest hit by the recent flooding — Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana.

In Iowa alone, "about 16 percent of cropland has been underwater during the last couple of weeks,'' says Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University in Ames, one of the few dry places around. "That's not to say it's destroyed; we don't know yet. A lot of this corn can survive being underwater and it depends, too, on how much silt is left over on top.''

Pricey future

Still, the Midwest flooding is among the factors pushing corn prices from about $4.50 a bushel this time last year to a record $7.92 now, with some experts saying they could hit $10. For consumers, that will mean more price increases in a year that has already seen the cost of the typical urban food basket jump 4.2 percent.

"It will have some impact on us (in the United States) though arguably not as much as some might think,'' Hart says of the flooding. "When you look at a typical 18-ounce box of corn flakes, there's less than 15 cents' worth of corn in that thing. You can have a sizable jump in corn, and it doesn't impact the cost of corn flakes as much as other costs embedded in there, including transportation and all the grocery store overhead.''

But Pimentel of Cornell said prices of chicken- and pork-based foods could rise 50 percent because of higher feed costs. For years, major U.S. meat- and poultry-producing companies have enjoyed what some experts say are unrealistically cheap, subsidized corn prices.

The run-up in corn prices could have a bigger effect on foreign countries, including many that have experienced recent and sometimes deadly food riots. Developing nations, in particular, often import a significant amount of their basic foodstuffs.

"For a lot of African nations, corn tends to be their staple grain so it's a much larger portion of their diet,'' says Hart of Iowa State. "They're going to get impacted at a much greater level than in Southeast Asia, where rice is their staple.''

Chain reaction

Yet another factor affecting global food prices has been the push for greater biofuel production as gas prices soar. Many U.S. farmers stopped planting wheat and switched to corn for ethanol, driving up the cost of bread and other baked goods made from wheat flour.

The impact has been especially severe in Egypt, which imports much of its wheat from the United States. A doubling of bread prices has sparked nearly daily riots by poor Egyptians, who spend 60 percent of their income on food.

The Midwest flooding also has helped drive up the price of soybeans, used in cooking oil and animals feeds, to a record of almost $16 a bushel. After Brazil, the United States is the world's largest producer of soybeans, and exports much of its output to China and Japan.

"Corn and soybeans are two of our most important and valuable crops,'' says Cornell's Pimentel.

The surge in commodity and fuel prices has replaced the credit crunch as the biggest threat to the global economy, finance minsters from the Group of Eight developed nations recently warned. The chairman of Nestle SA, the world's largest food company, predicted that high prices are here to stay though they may recede somewhat from their peaks.

The United Nations wants developing countries to become more self-sufficient in food production, as many were before they eliminated tariffs and other protections for their own farmers.

"These countries need to reinvest in their agriculture, and as a global community we need to help them do that,'' says Ben Lilliston, communications director of the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "This kind of global market system can cause a lot of pain when you see these kinds of price increases.''

Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at

Across the menu


The cost of bacon, ham and other pork products will go up because hogs are eating more expensive corn.


The cost of cooking oil and margarine could rise because they are made from soybeans, now at a near-record $16 a bushel.


The cost of bread has risen because wheat supplies are tight as farmers switch to planting corn for ethanol.

Pain in the pantry

Prices for staples have been climbing sharply for the past year, as statistics from the Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index show. These figures compare prices from May 2008 with May 2007:

Broccoli: Up 17 percent

Milk: Up 15 percent

Bread: Up 15 percent

Chicken: Up 7 percent

Submerged Midwest farms mean higher food prices 06/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Luis Flores, executive chef at Ciccio Restaurant Group, prepares an Impossible Burger at Epicurean Hotel's Food Theatre. Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that will launch on Sept. 27, 2017 in all the Ciccio Restaurant Group locations, except for Fresh Kitchen. "This burger caters to the carnivorous, not just the vegetarians" said Jeff Gigante, co-founder at Ciccio Restaurant Group. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  2. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    Construction is underway for the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. This view is from atop Amalie Arena, where local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the first piece of what will be the new Water Street District. The USF building is expected to open in late 2019. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  3. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
  4. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]
  5. With successful jewelry line, Durant High alum Carley Ochs enjoys 'incredible ride'



    As a child Carley Ochs played dress up, draped in her grandmother's furs.

    Founder Carley Ochs poses for a portrait in her Ford Bronco at the Bourbon & Boweties warehouse in Brandon, Fla. on September 19, 2017. Ochs is a Durant High and Florida State University graduate.