Monday, August 13, 2012

My Summer Vacation - Part 1 - Farm watching

Driving down to South Carolina with two kids and my mom for our vacation with family, I always like to look at the farms and the rest of the scenery around us.  My mom always takes us thru these backroads to get to our destination. Since my mother was a farmer, I always have questions of her and want my daughters to hear the answers so they can know the great and interesting history of their family.

As we were on the way thru Cerra Gordo, SC (astonishingly pronounced sara gada by my mom and the rest of my family in that area), I noticed all the tobacco plots along the road. They looked so yellow and and sickly. There were also a lot of corn plots as well. They were brown and crispy. This is early August mind you. My mom grew up cropping tobacco so I asked her about it.  She said it the tobacco looked really bad, and the corn looked like the plants were ready for fall clearing...

I got an education about how tobacco is "topped off" by removing all the flowering parts of the plant so that the energy would go into the leaves, thereby making them larger. My mom always tells the story about her youngest sister who, apparently when she was five, could crop tobacco as fast as any adult and expected to be paid the same adult  wages for each section she was able to string. The whole maternal side of my family grew up working the fields while going to school, cooking, sewing and being in the 4H club. Farming, understanding the seasons and how things grow is a part of many rural folks lives in ways that people in our urban and suburban centers have no idea about. Even though my Phily born-and-bred husband intellectually knew that vegetables came from the ground, he had no visceral connection to it. Vegetables came from the supermarket in vacuum sealed packaging. Prices varied because they just did. There was no knowledge of the why behind it because food and other commodities always "go up".

That being said, I have never seen anything like this in my mom's home state of South Carolina. It was really disconcerting to see what looked to my eyes like devastation. I started thinking about how the food prices will go up. I thought that this drought is the big drought, because it's the drought I know about and it covered two-thirds of the nation.  I figured we'd be seeing food prices go up as predicted in this article:

The price for a bushel of September contract corn has spiked 62 percent from June 15th to the close of the market on Friday. Newsom noted drought and increased prices in the corn and soybean markets could affect the long-term economy.“The big point is the ripple effect this is going have on the Midwestern economy,” Newsom said. “Not just for this year, but for years to come.”Long-term weather forecasts call for high temperatures and lower precipitation totals to continue. Newsom said continued drought will add to the volatility in the markets, and could “bring about an end to this economic stability that the Midwest has seen.”

I was thinking that people would really start to feel it now and understand the impact global warming and the evident climate change is having and will have in our economy. But, I am wrong. People will feel some price volatility in meat and dairy products since it's primarily corn used for feed that has been affected.  Maybe people will pay more for cigarettes since the tobacco crop looks like it's really been hit…maybe.  But, since vegetables are loss leaders in supermarkets, those venues are not going to pass on but so much cost to the consumer and the price jump that will happen in meat and dairy will be absorbed, angrily, but not defiantly.  From the

…. supermarkets import many of their fruits and vegetables from other countries - such as, bell peppers from Holland - so that they can keep supplies and prices in check even if one source isn't producing a large amount.  Fruits and vegetables are also a loss leader for supermarkets. That means they're often sold at a loss in hopes of attracting shoppers who will spend on other items, says Lisa Schacht, president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association… 
Packaged foods 
Another worry is that the price of many packaged foods that contain corn or corn ingredients will climb. High-fructose corn syrup, for example, is used in a wide variety of foods such as cookies, yogurt, cereals and spaghetti sauces. A can of regular soda contains 40 grams of the sweetener. The corn ingredients that are used in packaged foods mostly aren't irrigated either, meaning they're also vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and the price fluctuations.  
But keep in mind that such ingredients are often a tiny fraction of the costs that go into packaged foods.  Among the many expenses food makers such as Kellogg Co. and Kraft Foods Inc. also have to foot: packaging material, labor, advertising and fuel for trucks to get their products in stores.  "When you look at final food products, the more processing there is, the less significant the price of the raw materials," Bertels says. "A lot of it is advertising and marketing."

I'm afraid that until there's a real problem in people's pocketbooks, we're going to just keep going like there's nothing even wrong…because to most people, there isn't.

My vacation part two in the next blog….I did actually have fun.

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