The Odds Of A Global Food Crisis Are Rising

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

The vulnerability of global food production to extremes of weather is a profound reality that few grasp.

Given the current abundance of food globally, confidence in permanent food surpluses and low grain prices is high. Few worry that the present abundance of food could be temporary. But the global food supply is more fragile than we might think, despite historically low grain/agricultural commodity prices.

Both corn and wheat have plummeted in price due to current demand/supply:

Let's start with one salient fact: there are 7+ billion human mouths to feed now plus hundreds of millions of animals that are being fed grain to supply humanity's insatiable appetite for meat:

What few consumers grasp is that the global abundance of food depends on weather extremes remaining rare. If extremes of weather become commonplace, global food surpluses will turn into shortages.

In the larger context, the global food supply chain is a real-world system that cannot be "fixed" with financial gimmicks. No amount of money-printing will replace crops lost to weather extremes, replenish depleted fresh-water aquifers, magically rebuild top soil lost to erosion or repair the environmental ravages of industrial pollution.

In Globalization's Few Winners and Many Losers (July 20, 2016), I discussed the fatal flaws in market price discovery: in the Tyranny of Price, risks and costs imposed by environmental degradation are ignored in price discovery, along with largely invisible declines in value, quantity and quality.

Longtime correspondent Bart D., who works in Australia's agricultural sector, recently described the role extreme weather plays in reducing crop yields and food security:

"The tyranny of price not only results in a deluge of products of inferior quality that hurts us financially.  The bigger issue in my mind is that we have created a global ‘landfill economy’ that is stripping the natural resource base to the bone and creating pollution on a scale that our increasingly resource constrained future economies will find difficult or impossible to ameliorate.  

We can recover from economic damage caused by financial shenanigans relatively easily once the decision has been made to do so.  But damage to the natural resource base that we all depend on may be impossible to overcome.  That damage cannot be quickly fixed by tweaking legislation and financial systems.

Regarding the vulnerability of agricultural yields to increasingly common extremes of weather:

I think I can now see actual effects of climate change on the ground where I live. Recently we had both the coldest winter day (first frost I’ve seen in my 12 years living in my current home) and warmest winter day (practically a summer day) in the same week in mid-winter.  This weirdness, if it continues (let alone gets worse), has an immense capacity to crimp food production.  

Most people don’t appreciate that it takes six months to grow a wheat crop and only a single extreme weather day to wipe out a large part of its yield potential.  In my part of the world, a single night of frost at the wrong time can reduce hundreds of thousands of acres from 2 ton yield per acre to just a few hundred pounds per acre.  A few hot windy days can cut it in half.   As can a week of wet weather during summer harvest.  We are seeing an increase in all these types of events in the grain growing region where I live."

The vulnerability of global food production to extremes of weather is a profound reality that few grasp. A single hard frost can decimate yields in a day or two just as effectively as drought can devastate crop that are not irrigated.

In effect, the global abundance of food depends on the rarity of weather extremes. If weather extremes become more common, it will follow like night follows day that agricultural yields will plummet accordingly.

Few people expect anything other than a permanent stable abundance of grains and other foodstuffs. The idea that multiple failures in multiple crops could make basic foods scarce is not even considered a possibility.

Returning to the Tyranny of Price: how accurately does the market price in the decline in food's nutritional value as the soils are depleted?  How accurately does the market price in the future health costs of polluted water and soil? How accurately does the market price the consequences of rapidly dropping water tables and the draining of aquifers? Does price reflect the danger of key glaciers that provide water for millions of people melting away?

The answer is the market ignores all these critical factors. They are not factored into the market price at all, because the market only prices in supply and demand in the present. Nothing else is counted or calculated.

While we're discussing the potentially devastating consequences of weather extremes, let's also consider urbanization/ suburbanization and the rapid aging of the world's farmers.  Prime agricultural land has been paved over for decades, and some day we may regret this staggering loss of deep soil to suburban sprawl.

The average age of farmers in Japan is 67, and over 58 in the US.  The work is hard, risky and demands large investments of capital and time, and so relatively few young people are able or willing to become farmers. In rural China, an entire generation of over-60 people perform the physically punishing work of small-scale by-hand farming while their children work in the cities. 

The Rapidly Aging U.S. Farmer

Where are the Future Farmers to Grow Our Food?

We take it for granted that somebody will do the heavy lifting of growing our food, regardless of the difficulties. But what happens when the generation of aging farmers retires en masse? Who will replace their expertise and experience?

The only way aging farmers will be replaced by young people is if prices for agricultural products rise to the point that they exceed the financial rewards of working in cities by a significant margin. When agriculture is the place to get rich, it will attract younger farmers and capital.

Let's suppose extremes of weather decimate yields globally for a few years in a row. What happens to prices of basic foods? They skyrocket, of course, pricing out the poor. The poor then demand subsidized food, and fearful governments either supply the subsidized food or they risk outright rebellion from hungry desperate people.

In a real global food crisis, there won't be enough to go around. Those nation-states with surpluses to sell will be able to dictate whatever terms they choose, as I discuss in The Ultimate Long Game: Autarky and Resilience.

The potential for a global food crisis is heightened by the confidence that such a crisis could not happen in the era of modern high-yield agriculture. But as Bart observes, a scarcity of food cannot be fixed by financial legerdemain.

The weather isn't affected by our debates over the causes of global warming and weather extremes. Perhaps we should be focusing on making our fragile global food supply chain more resilient in an era of increasing weather extremes, and start pondering the cost of degraded/depleted soil and fresh water.

Maybe we should start thinking about who will replace the aging generation of farmers who will be physically unable to do the work in a few years.

Or we can wait until a "surprising and unexpected shortage" of food hits the human populace with full force.

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Swamp Yankee's picture

Here in the swamp we are not just ready, we are wondering why it has not happened already.

FGH's picture

Much like Moses with his Israelites, avoiding this coming starvation could be why Obama is leading all his homies

to the US promised land, disguised as refugees. 

CPL's picture

Jokes on them, once the oil runs out (or prices everyone out where manual farming is cheaper than gas), everyone going to be farmers whether they like it or not.

ParkAveFlasher's picture

What a bunch of hokem.  Chickens don't stop laying eggs, bulls don't stop mounting, goats don't stop humping, fish don't stop breeding.  What happens is a breakdown of market access and that's a financial problem.

jaxville's picture

   Yeah....and weather changes.  Everyone is happy to make aanecdotes about the (extreme) weather when records data going back well over 100 years is available. Its as though we never had a tornado, flood or hurricane until global warming came into the picture.

froze25's picture

People will change food grown to adapt, change farming practices to adapt. Permaculture farming builds top soil, people need to get educated on this. It's cost effective because you also get better yields and you must use organic methods to make it work so its a win, win. This however goes against Monsanto's interest so it will be a up hill fight. On a 30 by 60 ft plot, you can grow enough food for 4 people if you plan it right. You can get 2 or 3 crops of different types on that same plot. Their was a reason the Iris planted potatoes, high calories per sq foot. Chickens can provide protein via eggs, they eat almost anything and can survive in very cold conditions if you have the right breed. It won't be easy and the people that are used to using a EBT Card to feed them will have the hardest time. But humanity will continue in one way shape or form. I and my family and friends will be fine, I suspect many of you on this forum will also be.

Doubleguns's picture

2 words. Dust bowl. You cant grow anything, no goats, chickens or cows either because they die from the dust and starvation. 

Ghost of PartysOver's picture

Last time I checked the Dust Bowl was caused by farming practices not the Not the Globalist Agenda of Weather Change.

froze25's picture

If you practice real farming and don't destroy soil structure like they did back then, you don't get a dust bowl.

IS BE's picture

Big Agg is "Real Farming "? 

When can we expect Big Permaculture? Never.

We convert 10 units of oil energy into one unit of food energy on the end of your chop sticks. This has enabled us to double the population twice in my lifetime. It has doubled and then doubled again. How many more doublings do you anticipate? 

Promise me that the planet is one huge  oil sponge.

And then we have just-in-time food inventries in the supermarkets. 

What could possibly go wrong?

If we lost half the worlds population right now, we would be back at the levels of 1964.

Any glass-half-full idiots cannot hold their liquor. 

 

OverTheHedge's picture

I have been subsistence farming for the last 15 years. I am self-sufficient in meat, but I have never managed to produce a 12 month supply of all the vegetables that I need. Oh, and I lied about the meat - I buy in animal feed, so I am NOT self-sufficient.

People who have small allotments, or even worse, YouTube, think growing food is a doddle. You put seeds in the ground, and three months later you have a fine-dining experience, with nary a hitch in between. I take this shit seriously, and I  didn't have a supermarket to shop in, I would be a lot thinner. Plants get diseases, they die, the sheep break in and destroy everything, grasshoppers or slugs eat it all before you can. You need a very big buffer to make sure you have enough. Also, 2000 calories a day is a LOT of food. If you don't have any grain, you are going to struggle to produce it.

Next point: the collapse comes suddenly - Autumn /winter. If you are in the northern latitudes, how do you grow your food to survive the winter? How do you STORE enough food to survive the winter? I have land, experience, and breeding animals, and I'm not sure I would be able to survive. Complete newbees coming at it blind will FAIL. Start now, or get weapons so you can steal from / eat other people.

Wish you all a pleasant evening :-)

 

The Gun Is Good's picture

LOL!!! Damn. Spot on! (Love the ending!) We're relative newbs. All I've learned so far is that I barely know shit... if that (and I grew up around animals, gardening seriously, have worked on farms, etc.). It is just as you describe. There is more failure than success. Things go terribly, unpredictably (and even hilariously) wrong, and often. (I *have* learned how solve problems, improvise and engineer, and think on my feet more than I used to, however; but that's about it. We're just lucky we landed in a community of forward-thinking, pro-food sovereignty farmers who do the shit for REAL and who are happy to show others the way... but not a one of them is overconfident either....)

sharonsj's picture

You obviously have no idea what kind of soil it takes to produce nutritional food or that current large-scale farming practices strip out the nutrition and also pollute our waterways.  Nor do you understand that the oceans are so polluted that you will end up eating fish grown in farms or tanks (the former is full of bacteria and tastes like shit).  Or that bulls are fed grains--lots and lots of grains just to get a decent pound of meat.  Finally, you can't eat money.

ParkAveFlasher's picture

I can plant a tomato seed in the sun and pee on it daily, it'll grow. 

BuddyEffed's picture

The trouble with that is that you have to pee 10 tomatoes worth to get 1 tomato.

83_vf_1100_c's picture

  That is what beer is for.

CPL's picture

No they don't, doesn't mean they have to ship any of you anything either given the arrangement at the moment.  Right?  

That's how this works...you don't get meat, wheat or eggs until you break the commodities market to reflect operations and logistical requirements.  Food production is not like waving a central bank wand to make something out of thin air.  Then again the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" is the issue here and there is only one way to fix that type of stupid.  

People are far too comfortable with easy access to food that other people make very little from financially and work very hard producing.  This civilzation doesn't last a day without farmers and if you don't answer their logistical requirements, then you'll be horribly surprised by the outcome of reaping a profit on something you are lucky to be allowed.

An example:  A price difference of around 20 cents at the pump makes a decision happen if you are going to grow hay, soy, wheat, corn or leave the field alone.  Because sometimes it's not worth planting ANYTHING for you or livestock, like chickens and cows, to eat.  That's also completely dependent if the diesel is there or not.  There have been shortages and we are on rations now.  If you didn't know, there's your 411 on the situation.  What will happen is when the price differences are 30 cents, the profit margin is so slim because the commodities market is so fixed on making food that gets easily thrown away and a 'organic 20% growth of a stock'.  Guess what happens?

The country stops feeding the cities.  The market retracts back to the co-op and if you want to eat in two years, you better be moving a lot faster at replacing 110 years of poor engineering regarding energy source and production.  Without that energy, you don't keep chickens to lay eggs.  You keep the bull in the gate and raise it for meat not stud services.  Horses go to the glue factory for processing.  If you are interested heres a break down of the energy needs per beastie, remember to translate all that energy into the million moving parts to make something like a chicken, a bull or a person functional.

http://govconnect.alachuacounty.us/committees/ECSC/Strategies/wei/Shared...

ParkAveFlasher's picture

Like I said, it's a lack of wisdom in economics, not a physical lack of food, that ensures crisis.  There's food everywhere if you know how to coax it out from the wilderness, and that doesn't take much.

CPL's picture

You know what's easier?  Work to rule while retracting the food production sales back to the co-op and we do local auctions again.  Cut out the digital billboard...not like the price on the marker means anything anymore.  And if they want materials and food, they can drive their suburbanite asses out to the sticks to haggle on the floor.  Those 'brokers' are too far away from the field and most have never had dirt under their nails.  They ain't worth a tin nickle otherwise.

Teach chumps how to do business again and set your priorities properly.  You've all become so dumb and so lazy.

stilletto's picture

Yep. Bollocks article. The incidence of extreme weather has actually declined for several decades. Last hurricane peak was Katrina - pretty quiet since. all climate goes in cycles driven by the sun. we are currently in an inter-glacial phase between ice-ages. It'll be great in a couple of thousand years when the next ice-age hits.

tricorn teacup's picture

There are people watching solar activity, who may know what they're talking about, saying we're on the cusp of the next little ice age.

Sh3epdog's picture

Currently reading "The Great Wave - price revolutions and the rhythm of history" at the recommendation of one of you chaps. Shows crises and history through prices which as a good no nonsense approach. Anyways looking at perhaps Europe's worst "downturn" in the 13-14th century, bad financciao systems, gov debt led to sever economic downturn which led to poverty which led to starvation which led to wars, plagues since the population's ability to resist diseases in a weakened state was reduced (Zika fits the trend) and then Europe had far more rain than usual which destroyed farm yields and really tipped things over the edge. Food and energy are kinda the currencies behind our currencies.

Paul Kersey's picture

If you want to observe a food crisis first hand, then walk into the Golden Corral buffet and get a good look at the obese grazers loading up their plates.

xavi1951's picture

This is full of holes.  It's the same story about food shortages and water rationning that was the liberal montra of the 60's, right after they realized we were not about to go into an iceage.  ZH has had several more factual articles that cover this.  Weather changes.  All the time.  And sometimes, it is extreme.  Plan for it.

ParkAveFlasher's picture

That weather stuff is BS too. 

sharonsj's picture

Apparently you think with your dick too.

Ghost of PartysOver's picture

Yes I do and my buddy has made some damn fine decision over the years.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

They need to get a lengthy tour of Tyler Durden's soap factory.

;-)

Canadian Dirtlump's picture

in the same manner a fetus is given a tour of planned parenthood I trust only in this case it's time well spent and deservedly spent.

 

 

Canadian Dirtlump's picture

Well said Swamp Yankee. I've got all manner of emergency food from storable, to freeze dried, to pickled. My goal has been to be able to survive weeks and months, rather than mad max years.

 

That being said, when I see articles lke this I always am suspect. I.E. What agenda are we going to be feeding here. GMO mandates? Taxes on food? Lab grown meat? Onerous food production laws? Global warming bullshit laws?

 

The concept of being self sufficient has been beaten out of people in the education and mainstream news system, and in many cases it has been legislated out by bad law and policy ( gardening, mega farms ).

 

Hell see the news breaking about leonardo retardo di caprio today where guest were flown in on jet copters and dined on a whole fish each after a presentation on over fishing. Given the elite's lack of personal action on this I am not forecasting doom unless they want doom. The satanic elite is the most important reason to prep. Natural disaster is next, then social discord, then supply chain disruption.

shovelhead's picture

Hungry?

Those Chinese have a whole river of soup there.

SunRise's picture

They're looking at it like it's unusual.

beijing expat's picture

What's this global BS? What do you mean WE?

Hans-Zandvliet's picture

He meant, it includes YOU, to pick up a shovel and make your own kitchen garden, for starters.

TuPhat's picture

He meant that he wants a global gov to save us from food insecurity.  He also seems to think he is an expert on food quality and nutrition as well as climate change.  CHS should stick to bogus financial charts and inane summaries.  Articles like this tell me what he is really made of,  A globalist wannabe who doesn't have the clout of Soros.

Amicus Curiae's picture

yup, the warmist crap about increased weather events is the wakeup..

sporadic severe weather anywhere is NORMAL

unless youre a warmist or a greentard.

by all means clean up real pollution and stop feeding stock grain and let them graze naturally.

stop using foodland for biofuel GMO crap.

and yes a severe dry or frost can knock down crop harvest or quality

in a localised area not the entire bloody nation!

reckon a shitload of the unemployeds need to  do some farm work for dole

hell even for councils and public works would make them useful instead of useless eaters.

1 day a week even would provide HUGE benefits to communities and nations in just a year

IS BE's picture

World starvation is normal, fatso.

Beowulf55's picture

I got my farm and food supply nailed down.  What about you?

PositiveChanges's picture

I, truly, wish you luck in keeping it.

Between the local taxman, hungry locals, not to mention Obama signed the law BOTH sides legislated, that puts a home garden plot under the control of the USDA inspectors, and jackboots, I wish you luck.

A quick jaunt through Prohibition/Depression history finds the property, livelihood, and freedom of millions of Americans, destroyed for the greater good.  

As I said, I'm praying for you.

ToSoft4Truth's picture

You describe the problem.  What do you do when 21,000 people show-up at your door step.  Or 170,000 walk by your place while heading south and decide to stop-in. 

NuckingFuts's picture

Well, for starters my farm is 3 miles off of blacktop on a steep, winding gravel road. No road signs, not on a regular gps search, no cell service. For someone (or the hoards you type of folks keep warning about) to wander that far off the main travel routes, through a county of well armed rednecks, they would have to be pretty fucking dumb. I really do not fear urban or suburban types showing up where I am to take my things, which include over 15,000 sq ft of greenhouse space. Shit, people have a hard enough time finding my place with directions I give them.

Condition 1SQ's picture

The smug is strong in this one ..

NuckingFuts's picture

I would argue that it is well thought out confidence.

Condition 1SQ's picture

I'll bet you're a blast at parties

bullchit's picture

3 miles 'ya say. Why a gang 'a negras in nikes can be there in 15 minutes. Y'ad better move shorty.

IS BE's picture

And when your kids are starving you will be preying on him.

NuckingFuts's picture

Yep, 200 acres, river frontage, pond, large greenhouses,,orchard, plentiful spring water, chickens, etc, etc

backwaterdogs's picture

This article is pretty stupid.  the notion there is much risk in farming is bulshit, yields continue continue to climb, us farmers are all very large now.  a person cannot wake up one day an decide to leave the city to become a large scale farmer, don't work that way.  You are either born into it or not.