The shortage is a result of a severe, lingering drought that has depleted midwest crops, sending prices higher for food staples like meat, vegetables, and fruit. According to Reuters, the higher food prices have meant the U.S. government buys fewer commodities, purchases originally intended to support agriculture prices and reduce surpluses. The unintended result means government donations to food banks, a major source of their inventory, have fallen by more than half:
Government commodity purchases through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) fell by more than half to $352.5 millionfor the fiscal year ended September 30, from $723.7 million three years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. [...]
Government commodities once made up 28 percent of the food flowing through the Feeding America network, which includes about 90 percent of U.S. food banks and provides food for about 37 million people during the year. This year those commodities account for 17 percent, Feeding America said.
Demand for food assistance has only climbed in the slow economy, with food stamp assistance at a record high in August. While this year’s average Thanksgiving meal costs about the same, but groceries are expected to cost 3-4 percent more next year. Food banks fear not meeting this demand, as their waiting lists lengthen, while some nonprofits have had to buy more of their food.
The extreme weather — made more likely by global warming — could pose an even greater threat to next year’s supplies. USDA predicts higher grain prices could send poultry prices up 4 percent, beef by 5 percent, and dairy by 4.5 percent, with higher prices lingering for years.