COMMENTARY

Water, temperature and genetics limit farmer response to surge in global grain demand
Low reserves, rising oil prices, increasing bio-fuel demand shine spotlight on harvest, consumption outlook for year.

Posted July 13, 2006

Stu Rose's letter is in response to the article we ran last month by Lester Brown entitled Dear oil will favor local, seasonal food as distant sources lose competitive edge.

 

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NF


When oil prices went up in the '70s, how did that help farmers? I'm seeing four trends that may lead to world food shortages soon:

  1. Desertification - losing farmland the size of Rhode Island every year.
  2. Peak oil means higher prices for fertilizer and pesticides (for agribusiness), so lower yields may result. Before the Industrian Revolution, we fed 650 million; we have 10 times that now.
  3. Water problems. Our Ogallala aquifer is 1/3 what it was. India and Pakistan water tables are dropping 1.5 meteres/year. China's Yalu River has gone dry at least one month a year for over 15 years ... causing crop failures.
  4. China went from diminishing imports to the start of exports in '97. If that line continues—which it has—the world won't have sufficient surplus to sell them by, best case, 2016.

Africa is already losing more than 600,000 people each month just to starvation, which is over a holocaust a year.

I think we're in for massive shortages that will become more evident within five years. But I'd like to be proven wrong. Comments?

Stu Rose
Virginia

 

Stu:

We asked Lester Brown to comment on your obeservations and he sent us a link to an article he had just written: www.earth-policy.org/Indicators/Grain/2006.htm.

In the Brown column we ran in June, he wasn't saying that all farmers would stand to benefit from rising oil prices— just that those whose production and marketing depend the least on fossil fuels would have a comparative advantage over farmers with a heavy ancient-source fuel dependence.

NF