Record-breaking high temperatures, widespread drought, tropical storms and Hurricane Isaac plagued the summer of 2012, resulting in a significant rise in corn prices, major waterway closures and halted exports.
The global average temperature for August 2012 was the fourth warmest since record keeping began in 1880, according to Bryce Anderson, DTN Ag meteorologist. Changes in temperature, amount of carbon dioxide, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather can have significant impacts on crop yields, according to the EPA.
Some crops grow faster in warmer conditions; however, for some crops, such as grains, faster growth shortens the amount of time seeds have to mature, as was the case this year. Even as temperatures cooled and the fall harvest progressed in most states, impacts of the summer heat became evident as USDA’s crop yield projections dropped each month.
Unfavorable Midwest crop yields drove corn futures up to more than $8/bushel in September and Jack Scoville, vice president for Price Futures Group in Chicago, told Bloomberg News that corn prices could reach a record $8.75/bushel before the harvest is through.
Extreme heat coupled with low rainfall caused problems on the Mississippi River in late August when an 11-mile stretch was shut off to all barge and commercial traffic, preventing grain and soybean shippers from getting to Gulf of Mexico export facilities.
Readings near Memphis showed the river was at least 12 feet below normal levels. The Coast Guard reported that one barge ran aground and about 100 barges and ships were affected by the closure.
In Sept. 20 NewsOK reported crews were forced to shut down Lock 27 — the busiest lock on the Mississippi — situated just north of St. Louis, MO, due to damage that occurred on an unarmored section of the protection cell. According to Army Corps spokesman Mike Petersen, the damaged portion of the lock is typically 15 to 20 feet under water, the report read.
At one point, nearly five dozen tugboats and more than 400 barges — carrying enough cargo to fill 2,400 railcars or 23,600 large tractor-trailers — were caught up in the logjam. Petersen said roughly half of the nation’s farm exports pass through the lock, which was closed at peak corn and soybean harvest time throughout the Midwest.
“This literally is the artery of the nation, and when it shuts down there will be impacts,” Army Corps Col. Chris Hall told The Associated Press.
U.S. exports supply more than 30% of all wheat, corn and rice on the global market, and about 55% to 65% of U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat exit the country via the Gulf Coast. However, this year, Hurricane Isaac shuttered grain export facilities across the Louisiana Gulf near the mouth of the Mississippi River, a major shipping outlet through which two-thirds of U.S. grain shipments flow every year.
While the closure’s long-term effects are yet to be seen, exports could still provide a bright spot in the U.S. economy. USDA’s forecast for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 shows an unmatched level of exports, according.
“Even with tough odds due to extreme weather, U.S. agriculture is now poised for three consecutive years of record exports, smashing all previous records and putting America’s agricultural sector on pace to ... [double] exports by the end of 2014,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.