From weather systems and climate cycles to economic systems and civil unrest, the agricultural systems in the U.S. are heavily reliant on many variables and factors beyond our control.
2019 is turning out to be an important reminder of this. In June, news outlets exploded with evidence of a coming food crisis, resulting from a major delay in corn planting (or no planting at all) and generally low crop emergence this year. As you read on, I’m going to explain exactly what’s happening and why and three concrete pieces of advice to help you and your family prepare for the coming food shortage and resulting increase in prices.
Ready to dive in?
A Decrease in Crops
Over the past few weeks, reports emerged that U.S. food production, specifically corn, was substantially below expectations. Consider the following five statistics...
- The New York Times reported that as of May 30, farmers had planted only two-thirds of the corn that they typically would have by that date, based on the previous five years.
- May 30th was the worst planting day on record since the USDA began tracking such data in the 1980s.
- The latest AccuWeather analysis on June 11 predicts corn yield will be a whopping 11.3% lower than an April USDA estimate.
- The USDA predicted 14.96 billion bushels, but AccuWeather’s new analysis estimates this year’s total at 13.26 billion bushels. Last year’s corn yield was 14.3 billion bushels.
- The four states most behind schedule are Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, and South Dakota, which cumulatively produce nearly 40% of the corn in the U.S.
Additionally, soybean planting is behind in 16 of the 18 key soybean-producing states, though, unlike corn, there is still time for it to be planted.
The delay in planting isn’t the only problem. According to AccuWeather, data on “corn emerged” is also on the lower end of things, historically-speaking. The June 2 Crop Progress report reflects that only 46% of corn has emerged in the 18 corn-producing states. The five-year average by June 2 is 84%.
These numbers are alarming. In the coming weeks, they may get worse.
The Causes of the Crisis
Although there are many factors that affect whether or not farmers plant on time, this year, the weather was a major culprit.
The last few months have been particularly wet for the midwest, a key location for agriculture in our country. As the Washington Post reported, “From the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River Valley, millions of Midwesterners have endured unremitting rainfall, hundreds of dangerous tornadoes and debilitating flooding brought on by swollen waterways that are spilling into already saturated grounds--much of it farmland.”
These wet conditions have made it virtually impossible for farmers to get out and plant corn and soybeans--two major U.S, crops. When soil is heavy, cold, and wet, it removes the air and washes nutrients away, making it extremely difficult for seeds to take root. As Phil Fuhr, a farmer in Illinois shared, "I still have a lot of farms that I haven't planted yet. And there's nothing I can do. I'm just powerless. I just have to wait for mother nature to cooperate."
To add insult to injury, the US Department of Agriculture reports they cannot make changes to the contracts between farmers and crop-insurance companies to extend the planting season. Essentially, when it comes to getting their plants in the ground, farmers have deadlines in each state in order to qualify for full coverage. Farmers have less incentive to plant after these deadlines, as in most states affected, crop insurance coverage declines 1% each day after the final planting date for the next 20 to 25 days.
All in all, the future isn’t looking great for farmers in major agricultural production states...but the burden of the consequences will extend far beyond them.
How this Impacts the Rest of Us
This crisis will directly impact farmers and the “corn belt.” But what does this shift mean for the rest of us?
As Kevin Kloesel, director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, shares, “We’re talking about probably a billion-dollar disaster in the region on the ag side. If you’re actually paying attention to the prices you’re paying for various food products, it would not shock me to see those increase given what’s happened.”
It’s easy to assume that only prices of corn and corn-based products may rise, but it’s not that simple. Because corn is also a major component in cattle feed, the poor corn harvest is likely to affect other industries and food products. For example, in 2008, farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and other states found themselves in a similar predicament after flooding engulfed millions of acres of corn fields. The high costs of corn forced livestock owners to decrease the amount of animals they raised, which raised the price of beef.
As the Denver Post reported, “In the latest bout of food inflation, beef, pork, poultry and even eggs, cheese and milk are expected to get more expensive as livestock owners go out of business or are forced to slaughter more cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens to cope with rocketing costs for corn-based animal feed.” The conditions now echo what happened in 2008, so it’s not unreasonable to see a similar impact down the line. Or maybe worse this round.
How to Prepare
Only time will tell what the full ramifications of this situation will be, but at the end of the day, those that have prepared for the worst case scenarios will fare better than others.
We won’t know how much more expensive food products will be for the next couple of months, but it’s best to play it safe, and have access to nutritious food in the case that prices skyrocket beyond your means. Although this crisis is directly affecting the production of corn and soybeans, the effects could easily extend into other industries, or impact the cost of emergency food kits.
Here are three ways to prepare...
#1: Grow food at home
Whether you have a decently-sized backyard space for an outdoor garden, or live in an urban environment without a yard, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables you can grow and harvest at home. Stock up on seeds for a wide variety of plants, and take the time to cultivate your garden now. There is still time to plant many types of vegetables and fruits.
#2: Stock up on non-perishables
Growing your own food takes time, so you’ll want to have a secondary supply of food at the ready. Non-perishable foods such as beans, beef jerky, rice, and various grains will come in handy in a food shortage crisis. And fortunately, you won’t have to compromise flavor. There are plenty of delicious ready-prepared emergency food supply packs that come with recipes and ingredients for meals such as mac and cheese, southwest savory rice, and strawberry flavored cream wheat.
#3: Preserve Your Food
In addition to growing your own food and stocking up on non-perishables, you can also take intentional steps to preserve and store foods such as fruits, vegetables, and meats to last for longer. Canning, dehydrating, freezing, and salt curing are some of the major methods for food preservation, and with the right supplies, you can do it all from your home. Practice makes perfect. This is the year to get at it should food supplies dwindle.
Keep these three tips in mind as you continue to monitor what happens with the developing corn and soybean crisis and the full extent of its effects. No matter what the effects of this situation are, take the time now to prepare for a rise in food prices, as well as a general sense of uncertainty in the times ahead.
Stay alert, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply