business news in context, analysis with attitude

We referenced a story the other day from the Wall Street Journal about how "drought is blistering key U.S. cash crops, further elevating prices for staples including corn and wheat … Extreme heat is baking most of the U.S. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska all contain areas of extreme drought, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. North Dakota and Minnesota, in particular, are experiencing near-record lows in soil moisture, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"As a result, many crops planted this spring are wilting. Some 63% of the U.S. spring wheat crop is in poor or very poor condition, versus 6% at this time last year, according to Agriculture Department data."

I commented:

While lousy weather and drought are part of a natural cycle, the concern that scientists seem to have is that the extended problems being suffered in agricultural regions around the world may have a permanent impact on the cost and availability of basic foods on which we rely and even have taken for granted.

Which, clearly, will have an impact on the retailers who sell these products and the consumers they serve.

But one MNB reader wanted to weigh in:

I spent hours driving from Wisconsin through Illinois Indiana and Ohio over the past 2 weeks, corn and bean crops looked wonderful every where I looked, no issues with those crops.

Another MNB reader responded:

Your reader who conducted a crop tour of WI, IL, and IN needs to head west into Iowa where we are truly in a drought condition…….there are areas of the state where rainfall totals are currently more than a foot below what a normal year’s rainfall would be. 

Even if you are a city dweller, you can see brown, burned up lawns and trees that are shedding leaves early.   At the very least, I believe we’ll be looking at reduced corn and soybean yields in many places as the crops mature early due to the lack of moisture previously during the growth stage.   It could be the difference between farmers having just a good or mediocre year rather than a great one. 

Another MNB reader wrote:

Just go 500 miles to the west and it may be a whole different story.

And from another:

The weather patterns over the past couple years have shifted more precip to the eastern part of the country and that includes snow pack as well.  Unfortunately the mid west / west are the areas that produce the majority of grain crops.  You can't grow hay in downtown NY.

So now here we are.  Less precip.  Greater population growth.  More pressure from expanded irrigation. Increased pollution due to wild fires and voila!  Drought.  How can it be fixed?  That is the multibillion dollar question.

And still another:

We have a serious drought here in Minnesota, the whole state is in some form of a drought. In northern Minnesota we have a 20,000 acre forest fire … I could smell the smoke in my house when I woke up yesterday and I am 100 miles from it. 

We have a lot of Hmong farmers here in central and southern Minnesota, they came over after the Vietnam war in the 70's and 80's, they were farmer in in their home land and now here. They are micro farmers, they rent land, 5, 10 15 acres grow their crops and sell them at the farmers markets and some of our local stores, they are great farmers and introduce Minnesotans to some new veggies, bonus for us. Since they rent the land they can't drill for wells or put in an irrigation system, their crops have been hit hard. They are micro farms, there is no farm program for them to use from the state or federal government, no crop insurance, nothing, they have no safety net unlike other farmers. Our farmer markets and local stores are suffering for it, much local less selection. 


MNB reader Rich Heiland had some thoughts about yesterday's MNB/In Conversation about California food chains:

A few years ago I was in the LA area on client work and pulled into an In-N-Out. (Actually you can program rental cars to automatically pull into any you pass by - an amazing APP! ).

What really struck me was how busy the staff was, not just cooking but cleaning. And, if they were near a door and saw someone coming, they opened it. After I finished my double-double and fries I went in to wash my hands. A staffer was in the restroom and immediately struck up a conversation (not something holders of a ManCard usually get into in a men's room).

He asked me if it was my first time - it was not. How did I like it? Loved it. Did it meet my expectations? Yes, and always. Then I asked him "how do you like working here?" He said he loved it, and what he loved most were the customers. "We don't get a lot of angry people in here." 

By the way, they did start opening in Texas. But, we left Texas in March for West Chester, PA and now that we hav joined you in the East, In-N-Out once again is a rare treat. We miss Whataburger as well.

And from another reader:

Kevin, enjoyed your conversation on California food. As a Southern Cal native, a couple places are worth mentioning… Tito’s Tacos with their famous crispy fried tacos, burritos, enchiladas etc. on Washington Place and Sepulveda Boulevard since 1959…it’s been a UCLA hang out for decades.

The Hamburger Hamlet was an institution for many years but disappeared for a variety of reasons.

A couple of current up and comers are The Habit, originally based in Santa Barbara and my favorite all-time Mexican food joint , Chronic Taco based in OC beach communities.

Hard to beat Southern Cal for Mexican food and great burgers!!!

I vividly remember Tito' Tacos from when I was a student at LMU in the mid-seventies.  I first saw it when driving up the 405 toward Westwood, and would see lines of people waiting to order.  Which told me that I needed to get off at the next exit and see what all the excitement was about.  Which I did.  Often.  And never was disappointed.