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Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack: Massive Drought Will Bring Rise in Food Prices

Calling the nation’s massive drought “the most serious situation” the agriculture industry has seen in 25 years, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack predicted that Americans would begin to see the price of food items begin to rise over the next year.

The drought has been devastating crops across the country as more than 1,300 counties—a third of all U.S. counties—have been declared disaster areas.

“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.”

Experts say milk and cheese prices will probably rise first, followed by corn and meat.

Vilsack 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.

Because of favorable weather early in the growing season, the nation may still have a bumper corn crop this year—the third-largest corn crop in history, according to the New York Times—but the drought’s effects would begin to be felt in 2013.

The price of corn has increased 38 percent in recent weeks and the price of beans is up 24 percent.

The cost of beef, poultry and pork may go down in the short term because those herds are being liquidated, putting more meat on the market, Vilsack said. But those prices will probably rise later in the year or early next year.

He declined to speculate on whether the drought was tied to climate change. “All we know is that right now there are a lot of farmers and ranchers who are struggling,” Mr. Vilsack said, adding that the priority should be “what we can do to help them.”

The administration has lowered the interest rate for emergency loans to farmers and is streamlining farm-assistance programs, Vilsack said.

Help could come to farmers by way of the Farm Bill that was passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate on June 21. But the bill has yet to come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

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