Worsening drought to push up food pricesUnited Press International
A worsening drought ravaging much of the nation is spoiling crops and will likely hit Americans at the supermarket, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
"I get on my knees every day and I'm saying an extra prayer now," Vilsack told reporters at the White House after discussing the crisis with President Barack Obama.
"If I had a rain prayer or rain dance I could do, I would do it," he said, calling the crisis "the most serious situation" in about 25 years.
Vilsack said 1,336 counties -- more than a third of all 3,033 U.S. counties or county-equivalent governments -- were designated disaster areas.
He said more than 75 percent of U.S. corn and soybean crops were in drought-affected areas and more than a third of those crops were rated poor to very poor.
The nation may still have a bumper corn crop this year -- the third-largest corn crop in history -- because favorable weather early in the growing season encouraged planting, The New York Times said.
But Vilsack said the drought would result in food price increases into 2013.
Milk and cheese prices will probably rise first, followed by corn and meat, industry analysts told USA Today.
The price of corn has increased 38 percent in recent weeks and the price of beans is up 24 percent.
The administration has lowered the interest rate for emergency loans to farmers and is streamlining farm-assistance programs, Vilsack said.
Congress could help by revising disaster aid programs that expired last year, Vilsack said. It could also help by providing assistance through the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, a bill introduced in November and intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill was introduced in the Democratic-controlled Senate May 24 and passed that chamber June 21. It is currently being considered in the Republican-controlled House.