Food prices are already skyrocketing. Some, many of these come from the inflation caused by uncontrolled government spending over the past two years. Some come from supply chain problems. But a new problem is raising its head, and government officials seem as likely to make the situation worse as to improve it.
That problem is the food and fertilizer shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions issued by the West in response.
Ukraine is a major producer of wheat, but war is likely to ensure poor spring sowing and harvest. Russia is also a large producer, but sanctions and war will prevent it from exporting to most of the world.
Russia is also a major producer of fertilizers; in fact, it is the largest in the world. Second on the list is. . . China, a nation aligned with Russia and particularly hostile to the United States and the West. (Canada is a distant third.) This has people worried.
The already high Green Markets North American Fertilizer Index jumped 16% last Friday. Urea, one of the main ingredients in fertilizers, increased by 22%. Potash, another important ingredient (Russia is the top producer), increased by 34% in Brazil, the world’s largest importer of fertilizers. The price of the standard 10-34-0 “starter” fertilizer has risen 49% from a year ago and is likely to go up a lot.
Bloomberg analyst Alexis Maxwell calls it “a slow moving disaster.”
The problem is that farmland without fertilizers is far less productive. Without fertilizer, corn and wheat yields in the United States would decline by more than 40 percent. But as prices promise to go up a lot, farmers will either have to skimp on fertilizer or raise the prices of their produce a lot.
Then, there are also the skyrocketing prices for gasoline and diesel, which are essential for today’s mechanized agriculture and for bringing food to consumers. We add these increases in costs and decreases in production to the shortages that could result from the invasion of Ukraine, and we are seeing truly dramatic increases in food prices. In the West this will mean unease. Elsewhere it will mean hunger. Bureaucrats don’t help.
Some people want to farm more land. Scottish farmers and planners have called on the government to allow the farmland scheduled for “re-wilding” to be put back into production in response to the anticipated food shortage. But he is too sensitive for our green elites. Scottish Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Lorna Slater – yes, that’s her full title – has flatly rejected it. According to Slater, “We are still in a nature emergency that hasn’t gone away. . . so it’s a no.
The emergencies of nature outweigh the human emergencies in the green world, so it’s no surprise. Voters may feel differently when prices skyrocket.
The island nation of Sri Lanka offers a stern warning. An ecological experiment to ditch artificial fertilizers there – encouraged by the Rockefeller Foundation – was a “brutal and swift” economic and humanitarian disaster, reports Foreign Policy.
“Contrary to claims that organic methods can produce yields comparable to those of conventional agriculture, domestic rice production fell by 20% in the first six months alone. Sri Lanka, which has long been self-sufficient in rice production, has been forced to import rice worth $ 450 million even as domestic prices for this staple of the national diet have risen by about 50%. The ban has also devastated the nation’s tea crop, its main export and source of foreign currency ”.
FP continues: “The human costs were even greater. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the country had proudly achieved upper-middle income status. Today, half a million people have plunged into poverty ”.
Sri Lankan politics, which FP describes as a “mess of magical thinking, technocratic arrogance, ideological delusion, self-treatment and sheer myopia”, has imposed enormous human damage on the nation. But don’t worry: the government and the NGO officials behind it won’t miss any meals. The consequences are for little people.
With the three-barreled threat of inflation, rising fuel prices and dwindling food supplies, the world faces something similar to the same fate, and once again those responsible are unlikely to pay the price. (But maybe someone will. After all, food shortages led to the Arab Spring riots and the overthrow of governments.)
Regardless, world policymakers need to take a less casual approach to the well-being of the world population. This very much includes those in the Biden administration. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s response to concerns over fertilizer and food shortages: “Maybe sacrifices are needed.” You can rest assured that Vilsack won’t be making them.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.