Weather takes a toll… everywhere

Farmers have always been subject to ever changing weather, but this year seems especially bad. I wrote last week about the problems local farmers (and researchers) have been facing. The NY Times has an article showing that the weather hasn’t been much friendlier elsewhere. Farms in places as diverse as Australia and the Philippines aren’t off to a good start.
The most sobering quote from the article:

Last year, the rice crop in Arkansas yielded a record 160 bushels an acre. This year, experts there say, 150 bushels will be an achievement.

“There’s no doubt about it, we’re not going to have the rice to export,” said Carl Frein of Farmers Marketing Service in Brinkley, Ark. “Poor countries like Haiti, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Randy Kron (photo from NY Times) is an Indiana corn and soy farmer who won’t be able to plant this year. The article follows his story of fields that are too wet to plant. He concludes “I don’t know if this is the worst year we’ve ever had, but it’s moving up the list pretty quick.”
A lot of the comments on the post are typical: too many people don’t research or think before typing. One, though, had a different perspective. I really like reading what real farmers think, especially because they tend to be more optimistic and solution oriented than the doom and gloom Malthusians. One commenter who farms less than 80 miles from the farm in the article writes:

First, the use of corn for ethanol has had almost NO impact on rising food costs. Studies by USDA, by Informa Economics, and by others have proven this. Ethanol has impacted overall food cost increases by less than 3%. Secondly, corn-based ethanol is by no means THE answer to energy problems, bit is AN answer. It’s the most (really, only) biofuels alternative that’s practical right now. Cellulosic ethanol is still unproven, and sugarcane ethanol generates huge amounts of essentailly toxic waste. In contrast, 1/3 of the corn used for ethanol actually remains after processing; this is a protein-rich, very palatable livestock feed especially well-suited for poultry and cattle (and which can be used in small amounts for hogs). Secondly, corn ethanol is energy positive. New processes, as well as dramatically increased corn yields, are responsible for this. ON our farm, we last year produced enough corn to make 301,000 gallons of ethanol AND 35,000 bushels of distillers grains while only using 1,500 gallons of petroleum inputs. (Granted, this does not include energy used to distill the ethanol – but the point remains, it’s still a net-positive process. And keep in mind, this is fuel grown and made in the United STates, where 100% of the money stays here, and does not go to support corrupt regimes in Saudi or Nigeria or wherever…)

If you want to find the true sources of rising food prices, look to China, first, where a huge population now has the means and the desire to not starve. Or at least starve less. China’s use of corn, soybeans and other grain crops is by far the largest contributor to rising prices. 1A is India, where the same phenomenon is taking place. Second, energy costs. Third, widespread drought (esp in Australia), which hammered the world wheat supplies over the last few years. The last place to be putting blame is on bioenergy policies or US farm policy; to the contrary, we American farmers are consistently increasing our productivity and exporting more than every before to feed the world.

Thanks to Sue Jarnagin, Prof of Sociology at ISU, for finding the NY Times article.

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