Dry weather unlikely to affect produce prices


The hot, dry weather that has threatened Maryland farmers' crops isn't likely to have much effect on produce prices at the grocery store in the fall, according to commodities experts and food companies.

Prices for such commodities as corn and soybeans have shot higher in the past month at the Chicago Board of Trade. Corn prices rose Tuesday by 10 cents a bushel, the Board of Trade's daily limit on price swings. But commodities prices dropped yesterday after a new six- to 10-day forecast by the National Weather Service predicted cooler, wetter weather in areas such as Illinois and Iowa that are key producers of corn and soybeans.

"We don't have a full-blown drought here," said Roy Huckabay, vice president of Linnco Futures Trading Inc. in Chicago, who said the drought has done irreversible damage to corn crops in some pockets of the Midwest. "It's only in the beginning stages. We don't have a major crisis."

But Mr. Huckabay, who was more pessimistic than other experts interviewed, said that crops also have suffered damage in the Soviet Union, which also has had dry weather, and in China, where flooding has hurt some crops. "The world consumer could drive up the price of what's left," he said.

He said that the market would know more after Aug. 12, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to release an updated National Crop Report that will say how the growing season is likely to turn out.

Mark Prout, a spokesman for the Board of Trade, said that the soybean crop can probably be saved if the latest government weather forecasts are accurate. He said that corn needs rain soon because the crop is at a delicate stage of its growth, when the plants are just beginning to generate ears.

If the rains come, prices will probably fall back. "Any kind of

forecast for rain will send the market down," Mr. Prout said.

All of this has only an indirect effect on grocery prices, and probably a small one, experts agree. Most of the soybeans and corn traded in Chicago -- and grown across the nation -- ends up as either feed or seed. A bad crop affects meat prices more than anything else, Mr. Huckabay said.

For example, the corn that ends up as corn on the cob at the local Giant "is a completely different product," Mr. Huckabay said. And Mr. Prout said that wheat products aren't affected because winter wheat was harvested in June, before the heat wave began.

A spokesman for one major food company said that his firm hasn't had trouble getting hold of corn.

"We don't expect anything [about the weather] to affect our prices," said Bill Parker, a spokesman for CPC International Inc., an Englewood Cliffs, N.J., company whose brands include Mazola Corn Oil and Skippy peanut butter.

Produce prices aren't likely to be affected much, said Justin Vitrano of the Tony Vitrano Co., a produce distributorship in Jessup. He said that vegetables come from all over the country, including areas that aren't suffering a drought.

"There's so much coming from other areas it won't affect prices," Mr. Vitrano said.

"It could in late August. But the only one who knows is the Guy Upstairs," he said.

Mr. Huckabay said that corn prices on commodities exchanges affect a consumer's cost of meat more than anything else on the grocery list.

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