That unrelenting sun that's been scorching your lawn and testing the performance limits of your air conditioner? It might be sending your grocery bill soaring soon as well.

Citing record-breaking heat and reduced rainfall, on Thursday the Department of Agriculture cut its corn crop forecast to levels not seen since the drought of 1988.

And if you're thinking that you really don't eat much corn, so you don't have anything to be worried about, think again. Corn goes into so many of the foods we buy that shortages can end up having a greatly magnified effect, one that can push food prices higher across the board.

Corn: It's in Everything

The majority of corn grown is fed to livestock, including chicken and cattle. As it gets more expensive to feed those animals destined for the slaughterhouse, the end-product chicken nugget or hamburger patty gets more expensive as well.

The much-derided high-fructose corn syrup is the most common sweetener in sodas such as those sold by Coca-Cola (KO) and PepsiCo (PEP), and is even the main sweetener in H.J. Heinz's (HNZ) ketchup. Corn is also used in the production of many whiskeys, home and commercial cooking oils, and ethanol.

Corn starch is a staple thickener in cooking and is also used now in the manufacture of biodegradable plastic. Corn germ can even be used in the manufacture of industrial glue.
And all this is really just the start. Corn is America's biggest field crop, and is pretty much everywhere in our lives.

No Relief in Sight

The U.S. exports more corn than any other country in the world: It's one of the world's staple crops, along with soybeans, wheat, and rice. As such, the global commodities markets keep a close eye on what the USDA reports in its monthly estimates.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this drought and heat wave are hitting the corn crop at a crucial time, just when rain is most needed in the corn plant's growth cycle. And don't expect relief from the heat in the near future. For the northern two-thirds of the U.S. -- which includes most of the country's corn-growing regions -- a recent National Weather Service outlook called for continued higher-than-normal temperatures.

Unfortunately, it's not just corn that's being affected by the heat and lack of rainfall.

The USDA also expects a reduced soybean crop for this year. As previously mentioned, soy is one of the world's staple crops, and like corn, one way or another, a bit of it ends up in almost everything we eat. Shortages in these two important crops are generating fears of a new global food crisis.


Time to Stock Up?

There have been two food crises in recent memory, one in 2007-2008, and another in 2011. But because the world's supply of wheat and rice seem to be at normal levels at the moment, most policymakers believe we're not headed toward another full-blown crisis just yet.

In the meantime, as you try to stay cool during the next few weeks running between air-conditioned buildings, and as you sweat over the final tally of your next trip to the grocery store, here's something to ponder: Front lawns are overrated. You might want to plant corn instead, and try as hard as you can to keep it well-watered.

John Grgurich is a regular contributor to The Motley Fool, and holds no positions in any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of H.J. Heinz, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo.


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28 Comments

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sal8110

What I don't see written here is that Millions of bushels of corn are being used to make ethanol. What a waste of food. When is this country going to wake up and use gas/oil to run our cars. And use corn to feed our people & the world.

July 18 2012 at 10:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chris1011

Get used to summers like this Climate change is real. The globe has warmed by 1.5 degrees since the 50's and will do so again in the next 20 years thanks to high levels of greenhouse gasses. The prediction and calculations made by Hansen in 1981 are spot on. And the increase in global temperature is accelerating.

July 17 2012 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jdykbpl45

Thought Huff Puff just said that falling gas prices would keep wholesale prices in check. Please get your lies consistent, huffy.

July 17 2012 at 12:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ilm9p

Higher temperatures won't bother the scum on welfare, they sit around in free Section 8 housing with the A/C at full blast because they don't have to pay for that either. Higher food prices won't bother these blood ******* pieces of human filth either. Why? They get a COLA on their free Food Stamps to make up the difference. So, while all us hard working suckers are tightening our belts, eating less, and sweating it out at home, these dirty animals are getting it all for free.

July 16 2012 at 4:25 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
ChisnaAlaska

Despite the fact that farmers planted the largest corn crop in 75 years. And despite the predicted losses to drought. This years harvest is still expected to be larger than last years by just over 1/2 billion bushels. Which leads one to believe that we are going to see higher food prices due to the speculation that the harvest would be 14 billion bushels. As well as due to the loss to farmers....And not because there is a actual shortage of corn.

July 16 2012 at 3:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to ChisnaAlaska's comment
wfreeberg

I'm not sure you've had a chance to really see what's going on the midwest farms, major producers of corn and soybeans. In eastern Iowa we've not had rain for over 30 days. The fields are burning up. Crop insurance agents are recommending "Plow them under". We will feel the impact at the grocery store, also take into consideration the impact on our export market.

July 17 2012 at 4:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rdzins

We are going to get 0 out of our crop, not sure where the usda are getting there numbers from but many will harvest nothing. That is not a reduction that is nothing. Last time I checked 0 + 0 = 0. I believe there numbers are way off and I would be concerned, this does effect everything, not just corn, other crops also as well as livestock including your beloved pets. Many of these type of feed stocks go in to you pet foods. There will be no harvest for many, and for those who have been fortunate enough to get the rains, they will have a harvest but it will be nothing above ordinary.

July 17 2012 at 5:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ChisnaAlaska

Remember the whole issue with the XL pipeline and the state of Nebraska voting to reroute the pipeline around the largest underground freshwater supply in the world ? A aquifer that stretch's from South Dakota all the way to Texas. The Ogallala aquifer rest beneath most of Nebraska's farmlands, and it provides crucial water resources for farming in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and even New Mexico.,

And it is being pumped dry.

See the map of this aquifer here: http://www.naturalnews.com/images/Ogallala.gif

Without the Ogallala Aquifer, America's heartland food production collapses. No water means no irrigation for the corn, wheat, alfalfa and other crops grown across these states to feed people and animals... I wonder if this drought and the higher food prices that follow will open peoples eyes to the fact that water ( not oil ) is this countries most precious resource. One that should be protected, and not squandered and ignored. And if any pipeline should be built. It should be one from the Mississippi to the Ogallala aquifer to begin replenishing it's dwindling water supply.

July 16 2012 at 12:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ChisnaAlaska's comment
marine1942

but the tree huggers and B. Hussien Obama are happy..

July 17 2012 at 9:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ChisnaAlaska

Now just imagine if U.S. farmers ( had not ) planted the largest corn crop since 1937.

July 16 2012 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Ron

Part of EVERYTHING costing more is due to Obama allowing gas to go from $1.83 when he took office, to $4.00! Where is the same outrage when Bush gas reached $3.00? I know. No matter what a Dem does, the Dems stay quiet. Well, I won't!!!

July 16 2012 at 12:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ron's comment
ChisnaAlaska

So Ron, should we just ignore the fact that the average price of gas over the last 8 years has been right around $2.86 ? Or maybe we should ignore the fact that Chinas rising demand for gas over the last decade or more has also played a role ?

July 16 2012 at 12:29 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
ALD9000

Blame George Bush. He demanded corn be made into fuel so prices explode indefinitely. Corn hole that he is.

July 16 2012 at 11:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
groucho3710

To the funny funny person who said "higher temperatures in the summer--who'd-a thunk it?" all I can say is five years ago I hardly used my air conditioner at all. At most there might be 4-5 days in a summer when temperature plus humidity made me turn it on. Last summer was just a foretaste. This year we're having more days in the high 90's to 100 than I've seen since moving to Michigan in 1974. Michigan, of all places. I hope this isn't the wave of the future, but considering the melting icecaps and glaciers etc. I'm afraid maybe we've pushed Mother Nature too far this time, and as long as we continue arguing over whether not stuff is happening, we'll never figure out how to mitigate the problem. And don't tell me it's all God's will, unless you think it's axiomatic that stupid species shall perish from the earth because they can't quit fouling their own nests. THAT I might believe.

July 16 2012 at 10:48 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to groucho3710's comment
Setanta

mother nature is nonexistent and there HAS ALWAYS BEEN CYCLES of either COOLING or warming and anyone can ATTEST WE'VE BEEN THROUGH WORSE but of course NOT ON ANY SPECIFIC DATE simPly SUMMER HEAT,HEAT WAVES,DROUGHTS etc.
today in my location they're calling for 92--will this BREAK THE RECORD !!!!!!! maybe for THIS DATE but never for a recorded temperature IN JULY.

July 16 2012 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply