While we are digging out from another big snow storm on the east coat of the US and the West is facing another wet wintry mix, South America is in the middle of a heat wave. This is cutting into the harvest forecasts, which is pushing up crop prices to two year highs. Global food prices have been somewhat elastic even with the crop shortages from Russia this summer. This latest crop reduction may test this price elasticity. The dry weather in South America is caused by the La Nina weather pattern, which has already damaged the corn crops in Argentina. Argentina is the world's second largest exporter of corn and third largest exporter of soybeans. Both Brazil and Uruguay have declared a state of emergency with rising temperatures and small amounts of precipitation. Ironically, California has been experiencing an enormous amount of rain and snow during a La Nina season; however, many forecasters believe that California will soon be experiencing a dry winter.
Currently, the prices of corn, wheat and soybeans remain well below the peak prices in 2008. However, some analysts see a rise in prices of these crops in the near future, which means an increase in food prices at the supermarket. This may have a bigger impact in emerging markets where food inflation can have a significant impact on its population became more of their disposable income goes to food than in developed countries. A way countries may address this potential inflation is limit exports of its own crops like Russia did this summer. Countries like India are offering other alternatives, such as food subsidies, where the country is already dealing with food inflation surging to 12.13% from 9.46%.
In fact, corn and soybean futures contracts have already increased this month by 18% and 9%, respectively, to their highest prices since the financial crisis undercut commodity prices in 2008. Corn is up 51% since then and soybeans are up 31%. Also, wheat prices this month have increased 23% because of the significant amount of rain in Australia, which has ruined wheat crops there.
So in the end for Americans, this means that the lovely Chilean grapes that you have in the dead of winter might be a little more expensive this year. Unfortunately, this might have a great impact to a family in Haiti or India.