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How rising food prices are impacting the world

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Wassenaar knows all about the often vicious vicissitudes of agriculture. He's been through all this before, most notably with the drought in his inaugural year as a farmer, back when Dwight Eisenhower was president and "The Lawrence Welk Show" had just debuted on TV.

He's better equipped to cope with natural disasters today. In 1955, few farmers had crop-failure insurance. Today, 85 percent of them do. Drought-resistant corn had not yet been invented. And Wassenaar and many other farmers have diversified and now also plant soybeans, which have survived the summer in somewhat better shape than corn (though soybean prices are still at record highs because of the dry weather).

But it is corn that is the lifeblood of Iowa and much of American agriculture, not just for producers like Wassenaar, but for feedlots and poultry farms, ethanol refiners, and producers of cooking oils and cookies.

Corn prices have leapt by nearly 50 percent this summer, and US consumers and many farmers are feeling the effects.

The US Department of Agriculture foresees overall grocery prices rising by up to 4 percent in 2013. For some staples, the price rise will be steeper: Shane Ellis, a field specialist for the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University in Ames, predicts that choice meat cuts that currently cost $5 per pound will rise to $5.50, reflecting the higher cost of feed.

John Burkel, a farmer in Badger, Minn., is already taking action. He's canceled an order for 12,000 young turkeys. He says taking on a larger flock doesn't make sense economically unless he can raise selling prices. And he repeats an enduring lament of ranchers and poultry farmers who believe they're at a disadvantage without any government protection.

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