RECORD DROUGHT and WEATHER ...Just When Bumper Crops Are Not Enough
Donald D Schroeder
"Food will be in the 1980s what oil became in the 1970s — scarce and expensive!" So warns a leading food commodities analyst.
SUDDENLY, there are no great surpluses of grain stocks in the world. "We moved from surplus to scarcity with one fell swoop," said Willard Cochrane, University of Minnesota agricultural economist. Mr. Cochrane warns unless weather is good over much of the United States this year — and it clearly hasn't been good in many areas for many months — by autumn grain stockpiles will fall to little more than a month's supply at present draw down rates. That is ominous! Furthermore, in the face of soaring world demand for U.S. grains, food officials doubt that the United States will be able to build up huge grain stocks again. "We're looking at inflation driven by food prices," says Mr. Cochrane, "and they're going through the roof if the weather's dry again." Are we willing to heed this warning and correct the causes now leading to this unprecedented shortage in food?
Why Bumper Crops Are Not Enough
A conference of food experts met late last year in Washington, D.C. They agreed the United States can no longer be the breadbasket of the world. Chart after chart produced by the conferees showed that world food demand is outstripping anything the United States can produce even with record or bumper crops. Texas Agricultural Commissioner Reagan Brown concurs: "We need 1981 to be a good crop year. We have no real backlog of grain in storage. If we have another drought, it would be terrible, an absolute disaster for this country."
Last year, lack of rain and record heat scorched the U.S. midsection, damaging wheat, corn, soybeans and peanut crops and killing millions of chickens and turkeys. But last year, overall crop production in the United States dropped only a little despite extensive drought. The reason was, sufficient subsoil moisture pulled crops through to maturity in many areas. That subsoil moisture has been depleted in many areas. Insufficient rains and snows this winter and early spring have not replenished them. Now renewed drought and dryness has spread east and west. Few areas of the country are untouched. During recent months, Colorado and other mountain state resorts were forced to close for lack of snow. Farmers in widespread states were forced to seek federal disaster loans to survive. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture called the winter of 1981 the driest in nearly 100 years. In America's Northeast, record drought emptied reservoirs and produced water emergencies in small communities and major cities alike. Low river levels in some areas concentrated water pollutants so much that water was unsafe to drink. Record winter cold froze barren ground. Later rains and snow could not soak in to replenish subsoil moisture. In Florida, a big freeze destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of citrus crops. The Mississippi River, which drains the vast midsection of the nation, dropped to its lowest levels in history. It became a graveyard of grounded barges. That meant costly losses to many barge owners. They could only carry partial loads of critical supplies of coal, petrochemicals, crude oil and food grains. America's weather is critical to world food supplies in another little-understood way. The Mississippi carries over half of the grain transported annually in the United States. In the Great Plains states, winter wheat crops were stunted in root growth by lack of moisture. Areas barren of normal snow cover were vulnerable to sudden cold snaps and high winds. And wherever late spring rains relieved dryness, late planting,
Weather is the most important factor in world food supply. But many weathermen fear the United States is in the grip of a multiyear drought. Some feel the dryness is now as serious as the early years of the 1930s and 1950s.
though helpful, will produce reduced yields.
High Pressure Ridge
Weathermen offer an explanation for so much dry weather in recent months. Their instruments show a high pressure ridge over the Rocky Mountains. This pressure ridge prevented moist air from reaching the plains and eastern states. Normally in the wintertime for the United States, wind flow generally is west to east with a gentle wave-like pattern that bulges over the West and dips down south in the East. What has happened this winter is that the pattern has been amplified. The jet stream, a powerful high air current that controls many weather patterns, pushed moisture-laden air up into Canada, where arctic air wrung out moisture, then plunged freezing air deep into southern states. Gulf storms consequently spun out into the Atlantic and then dumped their moisture over the high seas.
Other Areas Hit
The United States does not have a corner on bad weather, however. Portugal in recent months has struggled with its worst drought in 30 years. Drought cut the country's hydroelectric potential in half. In Africa, the drought that afflicted large parts of the continent last year has eased somewhat. But many African nations are still forced to import more and more food with precious foreign exchange. And in various northern provinces of the People's Republic of China, two opposite weather calamities have increased demands for more food imports: the worst floods in 25 years and the worst drought in 37 years have caused great agricultural losses.
All of these weather problems put more pressure on the U.S. food cornucopia. But look what has been happening to American crop production in recent years. The United States accounts for 60 percent of world grain trade! U.S. farmers are now selling nearly every bushel of grain they harvest, most of it for export. Never were bumper crops in North America more needed to help feed the world. And yet even North America's record crops are not enough to feed the world. United States grain exports grew an average of 12 percent a year during the 1970s. But U.S. grain production rose only about 5 percent at the same time. And the world's appetite for food continues to grow rapaciously. In 1979, the agricultural production of the developing countries rose by only 1.3 percent. This was only half the rate of growth in their population. The level of production per head dropped during the 1970s in no less than 61 developing countries. Fifteen of these countries actually produced less in absolute quantities than in 1970. The result has been a growing dependence by developing countries on a few developed countries. North America, Australia and Western Europe now provide 90 percent of Third World imports of wheat and coarse grains. Developing nations will be importing 95 million tons of grain in 1981. That is an amount that already surpasses the requirements expected for these nations by the year 1985. In 1950, these nations were virtually self-sufficient in food supplies. That's how rapidly the world has changed! But their uncurbed population explosion is bringing on them a heavy penalty. Demand for U.S. grain exports alone are now expected to increase by 8 percent a year for the first half of the 1980s. Some authorities feel even that estimate is too conservative. "We're using just about all the available land there is," said the director of food research at Stanford University, and more productive seed hybrids, he says, are "15 years down the road." Increases in crop yields in North America have leveled off. And food authorities see no dramatic technological or biological breakthroughs to lead to another big leap in food production. Increasing water shortages in many areas also limit the amount of additional land that can be converted to agriculture by the use of irrigation.
And Now — Food Into Fuel
"Expected export trends, increased domestic requirements and future ethanol production for fuel will put unprecedented pressure on the nation's best agricultural lands," says the former chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. Weather is the most important factor in world food supply. But many weathermen fear the United States is in the grip of a multi-year drought. Some feel the dryness is now as serious as the early years of the 1930s and 1950s. What does it mean? It means we are living in a new era of not enough food for both growing domestic North American and soaring world demands. That translates into soaring prices. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says as a result of unprecedented exports to needy nations, world food stocks by autumn will be down to only 14 percent of yearly world consumption — well below the minimum 17 percent level generally considered necessary to safeguard world food security. A FAO report says, "With stocks below safe levels and barely sufficient to keep supply channels filled until 1981 crops reach the market, the world will begin the 1981-82 season with virtually no cushion against major crop shortages." As a result, the FAO report concluded world food security will depend heavily on the outcome of this year's cereal harvests. What does this mean to the new Reagan administration's efforts to beat down inflation? It means it must choose either unprecedented large jumps in food prices for U.S. consumers or grain-trade restrictions to customers abroad in an attempt to hold prices down. The latter choice is highly unlikely. Foreign nations are willing to pay American farmers premium prices for food grains. But are American consumers, long spoiled by some of the cheapest food in the world, willing to pay world rates for their farmers' production? No matter what government officials decide to do, the combination of heavy demands on food supplies due to bad weather, and other inflationary pressures, will cause food prices to increase between 12 percent and 20 percent this year, estimate economists. World grain prices and inflationary trends may well cut America's premier protein, beef, out of the market. Grain costs to fatten beef to slaughter weight have shot up 25 percent in one year. "Nobody can afford to feed beef animals $4-a-bushel corn," said a livestock analyst. It's cheaper to raise chickens and hogs. "Beef," concludes this analyst, "is going to go the way of big automobiles."
What Weathermen Don't Know
Why is it that few understand the cause of continuous bad weather? Bad weather is a warning from the Creator God that a people are not living right! God controls the weather. He works out His purposes on earth through it. People will not listen to God's written Word, so He is speaking to them in a language (weather) they will understand! Weather is a powerful tool in the Creator's hand to warn and punish nations for their mounting sins. Sin is the transgression of God's law (I John 3:4). Humans have too long defied that law! Notice what God promises in His Word — the Bible: "And if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments... the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, RSV). One of those promised blessings for obedience is proper amounts of rain when needed. "The Lord will open to you his good treasury the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands..." (verse 12, RSV). But if a nation persists in sin, God promises: "The Lord will smite you with... fiery heat, and with drought, and with blasting, and with mildew [excessive moisture and rot].... And the heavens over your head shall be brass, and the earth under you shall be iron. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust..." (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). These tragic conditions are happening in several nations today as a warning to others! Listen to this remarkable prophecy! "And also I [God] have with-holden 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; but they were not satisfied; yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord" (Amos 4:7-8). Prolonged drought is the result of sin! "Yet have ye not returned unto me!" says God. King Solomon understood this when he prayed at the consecration of God's Temple: "When the heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they [the people of the land] have sinned against thee...." But how many national leaders and peoples of nations have the wisdom to believe this today? Yet God is merciful. Solomon also knew this, for he prayed in this same prayer, "... yet if they pray... and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou dost afflict them; then hear thou from heaven, and forgive the sin of thy servants... when thou hast taught them the good way, wherein they should walk; and send rain upon thy land, which thou hast given unto thy people for an inheritance" (II Chronicles 6:26-27). National and individual repentance is the only solution. Wealth alone will not save us. Great reserves of oil alone will not save us. Bumper crops are now gone — they cannot save us. Only the Great Creator can save mankind from massive problems we now face!