Climatologists in the U.S. and elsewhere are starting to predict a likely El Niño weather pattern in the coming year. That’s when changes in the temperature on the ocean surface in one part of the world create all kinds of unusual weather in lots of other places: rains in Florida, droughts in Australia. What might that mean for global food prices?
"Wait and see," says Scott Shellady, a commodities trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, an executive with Trean Group—and a farmer, growing corn and beans. At this point El Niño’s still a maybe. There’s other, for-sure stuff to factor for farmers to factor in right now, he says—like the prices of seed, fuel and fertilizer. "As much as El Niño gets talked about, if they put it in their business plan, they’ll probably be less profitable," Shellady notes.
El Niño effects are different everywhere—more rain in California, less in India—so the effects on crops vary a lot. Commodities markets smooth out some of the bumps—but not for everyone. Purdue University economist Nelson Villoria says in some places — for instance, parts of Africa — El Niño can mean prices double for staples like rice and corn. That’s because not all countries get their food on big global markets.
"Bangladesh gets rice from India," he says. "It doesn’t matter that rice in Uruguay or Argentina is growing strongly. Bangladesh really cares about what’s happening in India."
GIF: The sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.El Niño is characterized by warm temperatures, which you can see appearing in red regions:
Here is NOAA's official description of an El Niño and La Niña: "Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (above). El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Niña by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific."
It’s hard enough measuring the mainstream economy. A new report from the Urban Institute has attempted to quantify the underground commercial sex economy. Researchers say in 2007 it was worth about $975 million, in just in seven U.S. cities.
Curious about the business expenses of pimps? Check out their online feature for further insight.
The Institute reports that pimps most often recruit sex workers from their own social circles. But the Internet is changing business. Bill Woolf is a detective with the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia. He says most scouting and recruitment of victims by traffickers is now done online.
“Whether it’s through social media, other chat lines, through false advertisements for employment online, things of that nature,” Woolf says. “But the majority is now done online.”