America, the land of plenty, breadbasket of the world! For nearly 200 years American food stocks have comfortably fed America's people and for the past three decades filled much of the food needs of the increasing number of food-short nations. To Western eyes, food shortages occur only in lands where gaunt oxen pull knotty wooden plows through impoverished soils amid squalid huts. Famine and hunger are problems south of the border or far across the ocean. But could famines such as recently afflicted Sub-Sahara in Africa and Bangladesh ever strike in the prosperous developed nations of North America and Western Europe?
Record Drought in Breadbasket Nations
In recent months some of the worst droughts on record have hit key areas of the world. Last summer the worst dry spell and heat wave in over a hundred years hit England, northwestern France, West Germany, northern Italy and parts of Belgium. For Britain the drought was the worst in 250 years. Extra food and animal fodder had to be imported to make up for the unprecedented drought. In the United States, northern California, the Dakotas and Minnesota were especially hard hit by drought, as were sections of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. Farmers in South Dakota and Minnesota have suffered the worst. Dale D. Gullickson, director of marketing and agricultural development for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, calls it "the most serious drought in South Dakota this century." He estimates drought-related agricultural losses for the state for 1976 to be "around a billion dollars." A report prepared by the drought task force in South Dakota says that "statewide, it can be seen that estimated crop production in 1976 is 55.5% below the average 1967-74 level." In some counties, crop decreases are estimated at 90% or more. As for cattle, according to the task force report, farmers and ranchers in 17 counties "are expected to experience a reduction in cattle numbers of more than 50%." The Minnesota Farmers Union estimates drought losses in that state at $1.15 billion for 53 of 87 counties. According to one U.S. agriculture official: "The drought has been more intensely localized in South Dakota, parts of Minnesota and Iowa. But there has been a lack of rainfall in much of the region stretching from southern Wisconsin and western Ohio all the way to northern Missouri, eastern Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and southern Minnesota." The ten-state region he outlined is often called the Corn Belt, but it accounts also for much of the country's production of soybeans, oats, hay, alfalfa and wheat, as well as beef and dairy cattle. On America's west coast, California farmers, who provide much of the nation's food, lost more than $1 billion worth of crops during 1976 because of the winter drought, two harvest-time strikes, a damaging freeze and unseasonable rains. The California Farm Bureau warned on November 28 that another dry winter would produce a new round of severe agricultural losses. It called 1976 "one of the most damaging and frustrating production years in history." "Nearly every farmer suffered to some extent, but for some time the losses were catastrophic," said Fred Heringer, bureau president. "Production from entire orchards was lost: cattlemen without feed or pasture were forced to liquidate." Far from the United States, in Australia. one of the world's key food-exporting nations, drought conditions reduced a previously forecast 1976 wheat crop of 12 million tons to only around 8 million. In southern Australia many key cropland and grazing areas had no more than 10% of their normal rainfall during their 1976 growing season. Millions of sheep and thousands of head of cattle had to be killed.
Ominous Weather Trends
The paradox of overall near-record food crops in the U.S. at the same time of spotty but severe drought is no source of peace of mind to agricultural experts, who realize that the bountiful yields of recent years have largely been achieved through the release into production of lands once held in reserve. They also know that much of the credit for tremendous yield increases over the last 15 years should be attributed to optimum weather conditions which prevailed until 1974. According to John McQuigg, a leading government climatologist at the University of Missouri: "The probability of getting another fifteen consecutive years that good is about one in 10,000." For the past several years, leading climatologists have been warning that the United States may be headed for some tough weather years if certain adverse weather cycles of the past are repeated. There is some pretty hard evidence that there have been at least eight successive dry periods east of the Rockies spaced 20 to 22 years apart. No one knows for sure why they occur, but there are plenty of theories (many focus on sunspot activity). At the same time there appears to be a major global change in weather patterns. Many meteorologists feel a gradual cooling trend is going on, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. Other scientists are not sure. Scientists generally do agree, however, with the observation of J. Murray Mitchell Jr. of the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration: "From the agricultural productivity point of view the climate's not going to get better. It can only get worse... If there's anything we can be reasonably confident about in terms of projections of future climate, it is that the climate of our crop-growing areas will become more variable than it has been in the recent past" (emphasis ours throughout article).
Drought Already Overdue
According to leading weather officials, a major drought is already overdue in the American Great Plains — now the world's most important breadbasket. A few years ago, Dr. Walter Orr Roberts, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said: "I personally am watching very intently for a drought in the mid-1970's in the high plains." Dr. Irving Krick, noted long-range weather forecaster, told Plain Truth researchers: "Now we think that the latter half of the seventies will bring more general drought extending from the Southwest up, encroaching farther north and east into the grain belts of Kansas, the corn areas of Iowa, Illinois, and so forth." Dr. Stephen H. Schneider, research scientist at the Boulder, Colorado, weather research center, also told our interviewers in 1974: "I would say that the odds of having drought conditions in the seventies are probably higher than they were in the sixties without any theory at all — just because we've had a very good stretch in the last fifteen years in the United States." Henry Lansford of the National Center for Atmospheric Research near Boulder, Colorado, adds that "it will not take an apocalyptic event such as the onset of a new ice age to bring human suffering from famine. Even if no long-term changes in climate are forthcoming, the immediate potential appears to be deadly serious. The climate trends that some scientists are predicting could bring us to a point of catastrophic consequences between the increasing population and inadequate food supplies much sooner than many people expect." Finally, Reid Bryson, noted University of Wisconsin climatologist, says: "The evidence is now abundantly clear that the climate of the earth is changing in a direction that is not promising in terms of our ability to feed the world."
World's Gravest Problem
Weather uncertainties in the food exporting nations could not come at a more serious juncture in human history. At a recent world food conference it was pointed out that in 25 years — or about one generation — world food production must more than double to give the rapidly increasing world population just a little improvement in food quantity, and hopefully, quality. The same conference projected that food deficits of the developing countries by 1985 will amount to a staggering 80 to over 100 million tons annually. Such deficits, in the words of Dr. John A. Hannah, executive director of the U.N. World Food Council, are "too high to be considered manageable, physically or financially. And these shocking shortfalls will greatly increase with each weather disaster." Thus, adds Dr. Hannah: "The challenge of providing food for hungry people... is the greatest challenge of the last quarter of the twentieth century." Dr. Raymond Ewell, a leading fertilizer expert from the State University of New York, goes one step further, labeling the world food crisis "the biggest, most fundamental, and most nearly insoluble problem that has ever faced the human race." Why is this so? Simply because the world today consists almost entirely of food-deficit countries. "Important exporters at the global level," writes food expert Lester R. Brown, "can be numbered on the fingers of one hand. While scores of new food importers have emerged over the past two decades, not a single new exporter has emerged!" If the trends of the past several years continue, writes Brown in the December 1976 issue of The Futurist, "the collective import needs of the 100-plus importing countries eventually will greatly exceed the exportable supplies from North America, particularly when the harvest is poor. Inevitably, harsh decisions will have to be made by the U.S. and Canadian governments on who gets food and who does not..." Brown's prognosis sounds very similar to the conclusions reached by William and Paul Paddock in their book Famine 1975, Who Will Survive? (Published in 1967 by Little, Brown and Company, Boston. and Toronto). The Paddock brothers concluded that not all countries could possibly be helped in a future world food crisis; that those who stood a chance to survive should be helped ("the walking wounded") but that other poor, overpopulated, chronically food-short lands would simply have to be left to fend for themselves. The world food-trade pattern has been "altered profoundly in recent decades" adds Brown. Within only one generation, virtually the entire world has come to depend on North American food exports. Asia, Africa, Latin America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, are now all net grain importers. Much of the food imported into these regions is used to feed burgeoning urban populations. And by the year 2000 the world will be half urban — up from 29% in 1950. "Not only are nearly all countries today food importers," explains Brown, "but a growing number now import over half of their grain supplies. Among these are Japan, Belgium, Senegal, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Lebanon, Switzerland and Algeria. Others rapidly approaching a similar degree of dependence on imported foodstuffs include Portugal, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), South Korea and Egypt..." Brown's conclusion: "Overwhelming dependence by the world's cities [and nations] on imported food supplies from a single geographic region in a world of food scarcity brings with it a vulnerability to external political forces and climatic trends that is risky indeed."
Production Limits Reached in U.S.
The dependency factor is deeply disturbing in light of agricultural conditions under way in North America. Even aside from bad weather, other factors are not promising. For one, yields of every major crop, whether it be wheat, corn or rice, have leveled off after years of unprecedented increases. Cost-effective fertilizer usage also seems to have reached a limit. In addition, as previously noted, "soil-bank" croplands have already been put back into use, leaving little expandable land in reserve. Then, too, environmental concerns over older broad-spectrum insecticides and pesticides have disrupted the war against insects and other pests. Plant geneticists, furthermore, see no breakthroughs on the horizon in the form of new super-yield crop varieties. They are instead working as fast as they can — on a treadmill, as it were — just to maintain the constant flow of new-enough varieties intended only to keep ahead of all the rats, molds, mildews and insects which in themselves constantly mutate in reaction to the man-made poisons.
Most Critical Factor
Weather remains the single most critical factor, however, in the world food picture. Yet weather seems to have become a highly unpredictable, variable element. According to H. James Tippett, chief of the grain section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Statistical Reporting Service, the most confounding feature of the South Dakota drought, for example, has been the irregular pattern of rainfall. Some areas have remained bone-dry all year long but nearby areas have received adequate rainfall and are either normal or above average in production. Although 53 of South Dakota's 67 counties have suffered major crop losses, at least 12 other counties in the western half of the state have remained untouched by the drought. In nine of those counties, production is actually up. How similar to a rather obscure passage in one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament: "And also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water... yet HAVE YE NOT RETURNED UNTO ME, SAITH THE LORD" (Amos 4:7-8).
Worst Thing That Can Happen to a Nation
Believe it or not, the moral condition of a country is directly linked to its material well-being. Is it only a coincidence that as American and many other Western societies engage more liberally in immorality, sexual perversion, "liberation" movements of every stripe, as well as top-level and governmental corruption — they also find themselves afflicted with puzzling, frustrating problems in their agricultural sectors? There is a link. There is a God, and the moral condition of a nation can cause that God to intervene directly — for a blessing or a cursing — in the forces of nature. The Bible contains examples of God changing weather patterns either to bless a people or to punish nations for their mounting national sins. God warned the sin-laden Israelites that, if they continued in their iniquities, he would withdraw his blessings — such as rain — from them: "Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come" (Jeremiah 3:3, RSV; see also Jeremiah 14:22; Isaiah 5:6). Continuously, God warned the ancient Israelites of the reason for protracted spells of inclement weather: "When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee..." (I Kings 8:35; see also Amos 4:6-9). God promised His people: "If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit" (Leviticus 26:3-4). But God also gave a prophetic warning, applicable in principle to any proud nation that forsakes God and refuses to turn from its national sins: "I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron [endless days of scorching sun], and your earth as brass [drought-hardened earth]... for your land shall not yield her increase" (verses 19-20). In our resource-hungry world, America prides itself on its agricultural power on the international scene. But how quickly that "pride" could be broken by the one who ultimately controls the powerful forces of the weather.