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Food Bank Stocks Dry Up in Wake of Great Drought

As holidays approach, government donations plummet

- Common Dreams staff

The insufferable drought of 2012 continues to wreak havoc as food banks across the country feel the pinch. As the season of feasting gets underway, soaring food prices have cut government donations to the banks and soup kitchens that provide an essential safety net to over 50 million Americans who struggle to eat.

The Great Drought of 2012 dries up food bank stocks as holiday approaches. (Photo by chiricahua sky island via Flickr) The worst drought in 50 years caused widespread damage to crop supplies, dwindling corn and soybean yields to the lowest point in more than 15 years, driving up costs for everything from grain to beef. According to Reuters, the effect has made its way to food bank stocks:

This summer's crop-damaging weather in the U.S. farm belt has driven up costs for everything from grain to beef. That means higher prices at the grocery store, but it also means the U.S. government has less need to buy key staples like meat, peanut butter, rice and canned fruits and vegetables to support agricultural prices and remove surpluses.

Most of the products from those government purchases are sent to US food banks, which then distribute them to food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters that are a lifeline for people who struggle with hunger - including low-income families, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Government donations—known as bonus commodities—fell by more than half to $352.5 million this fiscal year from $723.7 million three years earlier, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

“Commodities now represent less than 20 percent of our total food volume, a decline of some 150 million pounds. That’s a significant loss of food,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for the consortium of the country's food banks, Feeding America.

Monthly commodities donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina have plummeted by roughly two-thirds, from 500,000 pounds to about 170,000 pounds.

According to the Washington Post, The Capital Area Food Bank—the central supplier of food for more than 700 food pantries and nonprofits—has seen commodities fall 38 percent this year, amounting to 1.5 million pounds of food.

The impact of the drought is manifold as many food banks have had to supplement the declining government supplies by purchasing food at record high prices; corn is currently selling at $7 a bushel, more than double the price in 2005.

According a spokesman from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, food purchases have more than doubled in recent years, accounting for 27 percent of overall supply.

As many Americans are still living beneath the weight of these economic times, executives at food banks across the country are concerned they won't be able to meet demand. As an indication of the need, a record 47.1 million people used food stamps in August 2012, up from 45.8 million the year earlier.

Anti-hunger groups are bracing for more challenges in 2013. Indications show the drought will persist, impacting the 2013 growing season and forcasted increases in food prices, making it even harder for people with limited means.

According to climatologist Dr. Jeff Master's Wunderblog:

The intense drought is likely to persist through the winter, and its already heavily impacting the Winter Wheat growing season, which began in October.

Considering that most of the nation's drought regions need 6 - 15" of precipitation to pull them out of drought, the Great Drought of 2012 is likely to linger into the spring of 2013.