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CLIMATE SCIENCE
UN agency calls for global action plan on drought
by Staff Writers
Geneva, Switzerland (AFP) Aug 21, 2012


US corn, soy prices hit records as drought lingers
Chicago (AFP) Aug 21, 2012 - US corn and soybean prices closed at new record highs Tuesday as a new survey showed worse-than-expected crop damage from a brutal drought across the country's central breadbasket.

The price of corn jumped 1.7 percent to $8.3875 a bushel, while soybeans finished at $17.3025 a bushel, up 2.8 percent from Tuesday.

That left the corn price up 68 percent from June and soybeans 39 percent higher.

An all-time record hot July accompanied by nearly three months of extreme drought have baked the country's prime farmland in the midwestern and central states, where the world's largest corn and soybean crops are grown.

Prices jumped after reports from the annual Pro Farmer Midwest Tour gave analysts and traders more bad news on the state of the crops.

"Crops in western Ohio and eastern Indiana were far below the norm," said Pro Farmer analyst Brian Grete.

Yields in South Dakota meanwhile were called "stunningly low."

"The Pro Farmer tour sparked the rally" Tuesday, said Frank Cholly of RJO Futures.

"They have a pretty good peg at final yields," he said.

The Pro Farmer estimates were significantly lower than the US Department of Agriculture's sharply slashed forecasts from last week.

"We are getting less production from South America, so that forces buyers to go to the US," driving up prices, Cholly added.

On August 10, the USDA sharply reduced its production forecast for the globally crucial crops, saying output would likely be at the lowest level in six years.

Last week, they estimated that 50 percent of the corn crop was in poor or very poor condition, compared to 15 percent at the same time last year.

For soybeans, 39 percent of the crop was in poor condition or worse, compared to 13 percent a year ago.

The drought has also hit feeds for livestock like hay, forcing ranchers to trim their herds, which analysts expect could push up the price of meat in the coming year.

The worst effects of drought could be avoided if countries had a disaster management plan to confront the problem, the UN World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday.

With world food prices 6 percent higher now than at the start of the year and approaching the 2010 record, "it's time for countries affected by drought to move towards developing a policy", said Mannava Sivakumar, director of the WMO's Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch.

Such a global approach would also help counter the "major impact" of El Nino, said Sivakumar, in reference to the weather system credited with causing dry conditions in countries including Australia, India and much of east Africa, and flooding in Latin American countries.

Initial forecasts for El Nino show that water temperatures in the Pacific are likely to be warmer than normal for September and October, he said, echoing recent Japanese meteorological research that the phenomenon is likely to last until winter in the northern hemisphere.

"If it continues through the winter months there could be some consequences but we will carefully monitor (them)," said Sivakumar.

Despite repeated droughts throughout human history and their long-term impact compared with other natural disasters, Australia is the only country in the world to develop a risk management policy for drought, Sivakumar said.

"To fill the existing vacuum in virtually every nation (for drought management)" the WMO is to host a high-level meeting on national drought policies in Geneva next March, the UN agency said in a statement.

Such measures would include better drought monitoring by countries, implementing early-warning systems and most importantly putting in place an "effective system to help the poorest of the poor", Sivakumar said.

Communicating the information to largely uneducated rural farming communities was essential, said Sivakumar, since this would enable them to avoid the worst effects of droughts by taking measures such as thinning crops to reduce the overall water requirement.

This would ensure that they would have "some crop instead of no crop", said Sivakumar.

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