What is being termed “the worst drought since the Dust Bowl” cut deeply into production of wheat and corn and had a tremendous impact on dairies in California and elsewhere that struggled against rising feed costs.

The 2012 drought, spawning the third hottest summer on record for the contiguous United States, was among the top agricultural stories of the year.

At an agribusiness conference in Fresno, experts on more than a dozen commodities traced the interconnections of crops while giving projections for their outlooks in the year ahead.

Here’s a synopsis of each of those industry reviews presented at the 31st Annual Agribusiness Management Conference sponsored by Fresno State University’s Center for Agricultural Business, Bank of America and the California Agricultural Technology Institute at Fresno State.

• The nation saw record high corn and soybean prices and the second highest wheat values, ever, thanks to the drought, said Joel Karlin, commodity manager and market analyst with Western Milling in Goshen, Calif.

In recent months, Karlin said, the drought “has migrated from the Eastern Corn Belt to the Western Corn Belt and Plains, in the process torching much of the nation’s corn and soybean crop and now threatening U.S. winter wheat production.”

Karlin said U.S. corn and soybean yields have worsened each of the past three seasons. He said wheat fared better than corn or soybeans, and U.S. feed use of wheat will be the highest in five years as record high corn prices have encouraged use of alternatives.

• Milk production was down in California in August, partially due to hot weather but also because of high feed prices forcing rationing at dairies, said Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen.

Average cost of production outstripped the price at which milk was sold in the second quarter of 2012 and in many other months since improvement in 2011 after the significant losses experienced in 2009.

A bright spot for the U.S. dairy industry in 2011: Exports increased significantly compared to 2010, up 12 percent for butter, 29 percent for cheese and 13 percent for powder, a trend that Marsh said spilled into 2012.

Marsh said some analysts are “forecasting stable to slightly higher prices” in 2013.

• In 2011, for the first time ever, the value of the California almond crop surpassed the state's iconic grape industry to move into second place, behind dairy.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast the 2012 crop at a record 2.1 billion pounds.

Sue Olson, associate director for statistics and compliance with The Almond Board of California, said global demand remains high for 2011-12, marking a third year in which California shipped more than 1 billion pounds of nuts to export destination.  At the same time, domestic shipments were up 11.6 percent over the prior year.

The industry continues to capitalize on health claims that characterize the almond as a “nutrient power house.”