This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report , from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglishAmerican officials have sharply reduced their expectations for this year's corn and soybean crops. Farmers in the Midwest are struggling with record heat and the worst drought in years. The United States is the world's largest producer of corn and soybeans. In August, the Agriculture Department predicted that corn production would total 10.8 billion bushels this year. That was down 17 percent from a prediction made just the month before. And it was down 13 percent from last year's level. In addition, the average yield per hectare could be the lowest in 17 years.At the same time, the government predicted that soybean production would be 12 percent lower than last year.The price of maize, which Americans call corn, has hit record levels. Corn is a major part of animal feed, so the price of meat, milk and eggs is also expected to climb. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says average food prices worldwide rose six percent in July. The American drought was a big reason. Gawain Kripke is a food price expert with the anti-hunger group Oxfam America. He says drought in the United States affects the whole world because it is such a big food producer and exporter. The situation has renewed the fight between food and fuel. About 40 percent of the nation's corn crop goes into making ethanol. The production process leaves some of that in a form that can be fed to animals. Still, at least one-fourth of the American corn crop is now used for fuel. The United States requires that part of its corn crop be used in the production of biofuels. The use of ethanol has grown as government requirements have increased. But the head of the FAO, writing in the Financial Times, called for "an immediate, temporary suspension" of that requirement. Jose Graziano da Silva said more of the American corn production could then be used as food or to feed animals. The American livestock industry is also urging Congress to suspend the 2005 law that requires ethanol in gasoline. But corn farmer Alan Bennett says doing that would hurt his town."This country relies on ethanol for 10 percent of its fuel supply," he says, "Ethanol is good for America." The growth of the ethanol industry and competition for corn have helped parts of rural America that had been shrinking for years.For VOA Special English, I'm Mario Ritter. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 14Aug2012)
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