Drought in China adds pressure to world food prices

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:49 AM GMT on February 23, 2011

Share this Blog
6
+

The soil lies cracked and broken in China's Shangdong Province, thirsting for rains that will not come. China's key wheat producing region, lying just south of Beijing, has received just 12 millimeters (1/2 inch) of rain since September, according to the Chinese news service Xinhua. If no rains come during the remainder of February, it could become the worst drought in 200 years. The latest precipitation forecast from the GFS ensemble model predicts the possibility of rains of around 1/2 inch for Shandong Province early next week, but these rains would help only a little. A longer-range 2-week forecast from the operational GFS model shows little or no rain for the region from late next week well into March. Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) projects that spring in Eastern China has an enhanced probability of being dry, with only a 20% - 25% chance that the region will see above average precipitation, and a 40% - 45% chance of below average precipitation. So the great drought will likely continue, and China's ability to feed itself may be greatly challenged this year.


Figure 1. A dried cornfield in a mountainous area of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province, Jan. 18, 2011. Image credit: Xinhua/Zhu Zheng.


Figure 2. Drought conditions in China's Shandong Province this February have reached the "Severe" category. Image credit: Beijing Climate Center.

Impact on global food supplies and food prices
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the drought in north China seems to be putting pressure on wheat prices, which have been rising rapidly in the past few months. This has helped push global food prices to their highest levels since the FAO Food Price Index was created in 1990 (Figure 3.) China is the world's largest producer of wheat, and if they are forced to import large amounts of food due to continued drought, it could severely impact world food prices. However, the FAO's regional representative for Asia and the Pacific said in an interview with Reuters last month that the situation is not as severe as in 2008, when global food riots erupted. "In general, the supply/demand situation of food grains has become very tight at the moment but enough stocks means there is no cause for alarm," Konuma said. "We still maintain sufficient stocks, which is about 25 percent of annual production. As long as there are sufficient stocks, that means the world has enough food still to feed the people." However, he said that if food stocks continued to decline over the next few years, there would be cause for concern.

The record food global food prices have been partially driven by two other huge weather disasters, the Russian summer heat wave and drought of 2010, and the Australian floods of December - January 2011. Both Russia and Australia are major exporters of grain. Russia issued a ban last summer on grain exports because of their drought, which slashed the wheat harvest by 40% and damaged soils to such an extent that 10% of Russian wheat fields could not be planted this year. The Russian heat wave of 2010 is now estimated by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters to be the deadliest in human history, with 55,736 deaths. The Australian floods caused at least $1.7 billion in agricultural damage, reducing their wheat crop significantly. Fortunately, bumper crops were harvested in non-flooded areas of Australia, and the winter crop harvest in country was up 19% over the previous year's crop, and was the biggest since 2003 - 2004. Australia has been struggling with severe drought in recent years that caused more agricultural damage than the floods did.


Figure 3. The global price of food between 1990 - January 2011, as measured by the U.N.'s FAO Food Price Index. The FAO Food Price Index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of price indices for Cereals, Oils and Fats, Sugar, Dairy, and Meat, weighted by the average export shares of each group. Food prices between 2002 - 2004 are given a benchmark value of "100". Global food prices in January 2011 were the highest since the FAO Index was established in 1990. Image credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Drought outlook for Northern Hemisphere summer of 2011
The spike in global food prices this winter raises the concern that a severe drought in a major grain producing region in North America, Europe, or Asia this summer could severely impact grain supplies and food prices. Fortunately, with La Niña conditions over the Eastern Pacific weakening, and possibly abating by summer, the chances for such a drought are lower than they would have been if La Niña were to stay strong into the summer. The latest precipitation forecast from Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (Figure 4) shows few areas of drought concern for the coming Northern Hemisphere summer. However, our skill at predicting drought months in advance is limited. For example, IRI's February 2010 forecast of precipitation for the summer of 2010 did not highlight Russia as an area of possible concern for drought, and Russia ended up having one of its worst droughts in history. IRI did highlight the Amazon as a region likely to have below-average summer rains, though, and the Amazon ended up having a 100-year drought last summer.


Figure 4. Global precipitation forecast for June, July and August of 2011, made in February 2011. Only a few scattered regions of the globe are predicted to have above-average chances of drought (yellow colors.) These areas include the Northwest U.S., Southern Brazil, and Northwest China. Image credit: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Commentary
The recent unrest in the Middle East, which has been attributed, in part, to high food prices, gives us a warning of the type of global unrest that might result in future years if the climate continues to warm as expected. A hotter climate means more severe droughts will occur. We can expect an increasing number of unprecedented heat waves and droughts like the 2010 Russian drought in coming decades. This will significantly increase the odds of a world food emergency far worse than the 2007 - 2008 global food crisis. When we also consider the world's expanding population and the possibility that peak oil will make fertilizers and agriculture much more expensive, we have the potential for a perfect storm of events aligning in the near future, with droughts made significantly worse by climate change contributing to events that will cause disruption of the global economy, intense political turmoil, and war.

I will be doing another post on Thursday or Friday.

The New York Times' Andy Revkin in his Dot Earth Blog has a more in-depth look at the food and climate change issue that I recommend.

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

Sign In or Register Sign In or Register

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 793 - 743

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18Blog Index

Evening all, hope everyone who saw enjoyed the shuttle launch earlier today.

Tell you, I thought it wasn't gonna happen. It was only 2-4 seconds before a scrub that they said go for launch and picked up the count again.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Live Coverage from Memphis
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:

Wow! You must have been a real mess, if this is an improvement....
(you left yourself wide open there, Press...)
Zing! award granted.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Looks bad there Pat.
Hope they have the Warnings....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The 18 UTC Little Rock Skew-T


The 0 UTC Jackson, MS (There was no Memphis launch, apparently):


That mid-level dry and inversion is someone's new best friend...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting presslord:


years have therapy have helped......a little....

Wow! You must have been a real mess, if this is an improvement....
(you left yourself wide open there, Press...)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:


Well they better get in line,..its a long un.

I know a good counselor anyway.

Where is Kman ?

Think he is putting in more storm-shutters....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:

Flashbacks are good sometimes.
Other times, well, they are pretty Grim.
Do you think that Sis. Sad. caused your current condition?


years have therapy have helped......a little....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


OK...using the words 'nuns' and 'breasts' in the same phrase is really throwin' me off...having really disturbing visuals of Sister Sadistica from my youth....

Flashbacks are good sometimes.
Other times, well, they are pretty Grim.
Do you think that Sis. Sad. caused your current condition?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:


You just narrowed down my Mardi Gras Day costume for me pottery.

Thanks a million.

Send photos..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


OK...using the words 'nuns' and 'breasts' in the same phrase is really throwin' me off...having really disturbing visuals of Sister Sadistica from my youth....
Had a Sister Ruth-less, myself. (no, really)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting Patrap:
Indeed pott,itsa real wu link,thus the lack of a prompt.

Im getting this blogging thing down me tinks.

Oh,,and the Superdome outside lights dimmed a tad too.

Yeah, well be careful.
I think I read somewhere that you could be held liable for causing Cardiac Arrest in people for posting stuff like that.
There are probably 100 lawyers looking for you as we speak...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Levi32:
This event is definitely a lot less extreme due to what the winter has already done to the south, keeping the Gulf of Mexico held down to a low roar. The inflow out of the gulf is pretty cold, with all north gulf stations south of LA reporting temperatures under 70F. This could have been a lot worse if the gulf were as warm as it is supposed to be in a La Nina winter.



Yet, at the surface down here, setting records:

(just sayin, the warmth is above and beyond that of the near-shore gulf SSTs)

Public Information Statement as of 4:44 PM CST on February 24, 2011

...Multiple record high temperatures set today...

Here is a summary of the record high temperatures set today...Thursday February 24 2011.

New Orleans International Airport set a record high today of 83 degrees which broke the old record of 81 set in 1982.

Slidell Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke the old record of 74 set in 2000.

Baton Rouge Airport set a record high today of 83 degrees which broke the old record of 82 in 1944.

McComb Airport set a record high today of 81 degrees which broke the old record of 80 set in 1980.

New Orleans Lakefront Airport set a record high today of 84 degrees which broke the old record of 81 in 2001.

Pascagoula set a record high today of 77 degrees which broke the old record of 73 in 2003.

Gulfport set a record high today of 75 degrees which broke the old record of 70 in 2001.

As a reminder...the length of record is rather short at Slidell...Pascagoula and at Gulfport.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
Quoting pottery:

It's the 'admirers' that are going to hard to find.
Nuns in breastplates would be cool though.


OK...using the words 'nuns' and 'breasts' in the same phrase is really throwin' me off...having really disturbing visuals of Sister Sadistica from my youth....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


gonna have to have a priest there...preferably Monsignor or higher...and some nuns.......there need to be some nuns...

It's the 'admirers' that are going to hard to find.
Nuns in breastplates would be cool though.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting twincomanche:


Everything is frightening to some on here. This is one of the few places that several members truly believe in the black helicopters.

It's not black helicopters I worry about; it's the red, white, and blue ones with the Fox logo on the side. ;-)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14166
Hey!! You two!!! I'm right here!! Takin' notes, too...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting KoritheMan:


Whether or not we see a warmer than average spring isn't really relevant -- once summer actually gets here, temperatures naturally warm. And, even during the coldest of years, there is fuel more than sufficient to power dangerous hurricanes.
It always takes that one.The west pacific was a perfect exsample of that.Magi was the really bad storm of the season.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Somehow I kinda picture that funeral with a Viking Boat,,Fire, Libations,breast plates,dancing,,Grothar reciting something in a Narrative Nordic prose.

Almost movie Like.

Epic.


Sounds real Ghastly.... Tussen Horrors!
A Late-nite Special ?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
presslord does have a uncanny sense of timing.

But his dress choice's need "vast" improvement.

Use caution here

I clicked on that link, and I am sure I heard a Transformer blow-up just down the road.
You sure know how to scare the unsuspecting, Pat!
I will probably have nightmares, and have to go back to the Hypnotic Lady who bannished that apparition from my memory before.
Now, it's back....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Somehow I kinda picture that funeral with a VViking Boat,,Fire, Libations,dancing,,Grothar reciting something in a Narrative Nordic prose.

Almost movie Like.

Epic.



gonna have to have a priest there...preferably Monsignor or higher...and some nuns.......there need to be some nuns...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
presslord does have a uncanny sense of timing.

But his dress choice's need "vast" improvement.

Use caution here


THAT....is a fine looking specimen of American womanhood.....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


the fine will be suspended...assuming no future transgressions...

Thank you kind Sir.
I will dance at your funeral (that does not sound right, somehow... but know that I am pleased!)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
Well a warmer Planet will support a Juicier Mass of well, wet the Good Dr. says.

Trust Him,,he's a Doctor.


True...
Not liking the look of the map above, showing those areas of potential Drought though.
In some pretty "delicate" areas as well..

going into some interesting times, thinks I.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting pottery:

Oooops--
did'nt know you were snooping around!
But you are quite right.
GUILTY.

TT$100 is about US$ 15.(I assume the fine is in TT$ you see)
I cant even afford that right now.LOL
I'm going to have to do the time.....
So as of now, I am officially On The Run>>>>>>>>>>>> ;


the fine will be suspended...assuming no future transgressions...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting presslord:


mugs are for ale...not rainwater...you are fined $100.00

Oooops--
did'nt know you were snooping around!
But you are quite right.
GUILTY.

TT$100 is about US$ 15.(I assume the fine is in TT$ you see)
I cant even afford that right now.LOL
I'm going to have to do the time.....
So as of now, I am officially On The Run>>>>>>>>>>>>
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Patrap:
A soaker eh,pottery?

Yeah, big time!
It's supposed to be dry season too....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting washingtonian115:
Those GOM waters will be warming up quite nicley this year with warmth returning to the south,and staying above average in some cases,so by June those gulf waters should be warm,and ready to "help" produce which in anyway isn't good.Also that increases tornado activity.And the spring forecast from WSI is bogus.I think we'll see a warm spring.CYL.


Whether or not we see a warmer than average spring isn't really relevant -- once summer actually gets here, temperatures naturally warm. And, even during the coldest of years, there is fuel more than sufficient to power dangerous hurricanes.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 793 - 743

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Local Weather

Overcast
40 °F
Overcast

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Carrot Nose in Danger
Deep Snow in Brookline, MA
Sunset at Fort DeSoto
New Years Day Sunset in Death Valley