Is The Wheat Shortage Being Oversold?

David Trammel's picture

Lots of panic on Ukraine and a possible shortage of wheat with the result of skyrocketing food prices and/or shortages. Is it being oversold to provide cover for suppliers to raise prices and make more profit?
Click show thread if it doesn't show the replies:


It's certainly very helpful that India is in a position to fill in part of the gap. It's something I hadn't heard, and I'm glad to know. One big part of the remaining issues is that a lot of the countries buying Ukrainian and/or Russian wheat are poor and may not be able to afford the higher prices that are making exporting Indian wheat make sense. A lot of african countries, plus Yemen sourced much of their wheat from Ukraine. The World Food Program also sourced much their wheat from Ukraine, and what I've heard from them is that their costs to provide food have gone way up - both wheat prices and transportation costs playing a role. And they are very worried about the effect on Yemen and other low income countries who were relying on Ukrainian wheat. There were certain areas last year, including in Yemen, where they didn't have the monetary resources to give full rations and were distributing half-rations last year.

I think there is a real, genuine danger of famines getting out of control in areas that were already on the edge. I'm also expecting hunger to go up substantially worldwide, including more food insecurity in the developed world. It isn't just the wheat issues, it's the fertilizer issues, the bird flu, the fuel hikes, and the rent and gas hikes on the consumer end that are going to significantly impact people's ability to buy food. Do I think it's an insurmountable problem in the developed world? No. We don't feed everyone adequately right now because our societies choose not to. In very poor/conflict ridden counties? It would take a major effort and high priority being placed on it by richer nations. That could still happen, but what I'm seeing so far is a strong focus on Ukraine while ignoring everywhere else, with little attention paid to the effects export bans and sanctions are likely to have on poor importing countries. That worries me.

One of my big issues is the fact that 40% of edible human food in North America is being thrown away. The loss of resources to produce it, in addition to the climate change implications plus the loss of calories just pains me. This is a place many Americans can save a lot of money, to spend in other areas.

It's just sick how low energy prices in America have been and remain. The costs are being paid by our environment, which is ceasing to support us.

David Trammel's picture

Had some interesting talk on a closed FB group about fertilizer. Apparently, my misassumption that a shortage of fertilizer just means that all of the fields will be planted though there will be a decrease in the amount harvested from each.

Instead, professional farmers seem to have a point where if the harvest is not enough, it doesn't cover the costs of fuel, seed, and tractor, so they don't even bother to plant. So we see something like 100%, 95%, 90%, 85% - 0%.

That kind of decrease could cause much harsher shortages than anyone is planning for.

Straw and donkeys.


The initial comment that highlighted this:
"So, anecdotally, I was speaking to one of my farmer neighbors last night. She has been farming here since the 1940's or 50's (she's pushing 90). She said that most of our neighbors are having problems sourcing fertilizer, and that even the folks that ordered in the fall are still waiting for delivery; the folks who waited for spring probably won't get any. Her fertilizer just came in, and she's not sure if she got as much as she ordered. Now here's the concerning part: she stated that there is no point in planting a field without fertilizer. At all. I had assumed that there would be fields planted, but lower crop yield; my neighbor said that with the cost of seed and fuel, you'd need a high yield to make it worth planting at all, and the land is too played out to give much of a yield without fertilizer. She's working on identifying which fields to fallow if she got less fertilizer than expected. I am certain she is not the only one making that calculation, and it is not unique to my region. So on top of the probable reduced yields without fertilizer, there is also a high probability of a percentage of fields not being planted at all, due to economics. I'm not sure how many prognosticators are taking that into account, but it definitely adds to my own level of concern."

Ken's picture

Caring for topsoil is a topic that is CORE to any agricultural civilization or that civilization won't last long and will leave nothing but dust and devastation in it's wake. The thin, living layer of dead and growing organisms that veils the mineral soil and stone of the planet's crust is where EVERYTHING happens. Start by reading Aldo Leopold and keep going to Wendell Berry for more and better understanding of this. The simple fact that someone that answers to the name of Farmer and thinks that ammonia based fertilizer is absolutely necessary is indicative of a level of cognitive dissonance that beggars the imagination. Just what does this lady agri-business person think people used for fertilizer for the last 10,000 years?

The North American continent was the most agriculturally hospitable continent on Earth 500 years ago. Since then, the deforestation and abusive, extractive agricultural practices fomented and financed by unrestrained capitalism has turned it into a feeble shadow of it's former fertile self. The prairies that supported 60 million bison now grow tumbleweeds and sagebrush. The Mississippi river drainage has lost BILLIONS of TONS of topsoil and why? Because of greed. Because of capitalistic acquisitiveness. Because of a get-rich-quick mining of fertility. I do not blame this woman personally. I suspect that she doesn't even realize that she is simply the heir to foolishness and the devastation that it has brought.

If you are concerned about commodity prices, you are looking at the wrong indices. Look at the depth or utter absence of topsoil to calculate the longevity of a culture. Either humans learn to farm regeneratively, or we die. It really is that simple. Mono-cropped fields of genetically modified soybeans, corn and beets, much of which is destined for ethanol production because it isn't fit to eat by man nor beast, is NOT farming. It is strip-mining. This kind of idiocy makes me so damn mad I could spit! It didn't and doesn't have to be this way! From the eastern seaboard to the 100th meridian a family could make a living with 160 acres and a mule in perpetuity and that Jeffersonian yeoman farmer model could have been our pattern except for the idiocy of unrestrained capitalism and a foundational belief in apocalypse. WE and by we I mean European immigrants, have driven a continent to it's knees and it makes me sick unto death. I cannot even continue...

lathechuck's picture

Sure, some Ukrainian fields may not get planted this spring, and some fertilizer isn't getting delivered, but there are other factors of concern as well. Propane is used to dry harvested grain, so it is stable in storage. US propane stocks are as low as they've ever been, for this time of year. Diesel fuel is used to cultivate, plant, harvest, and transport, and is derived from the heavier grades of crude oil, which are available from Russia, Venezuela, and Iran. US crude is "light and sweet", fine for gasoline, but not so much for diesel. Natural gas is used to make fertilizer, of course, but also herbicides and pesticides, and plastic packaging. Some of re-use containers as we shop from bulk food bins, but most people buy, say, beans in plastic bags, if not steel cans. If Europe doesn't want to use Russian gas, they can pay to have it shipped in liquid form from North America, and that's going to drive up the price for everyone, everywhere (except Russia, and maybe China).

David Trammel's picture

Time to consider humanure for the garden?

"No poop for you: Manure supplies run short as fertilizer prices soar"

"For nearly two decades, Abe Sandquist has used every marketing tool he can think of to sell the back end of a cow. Poop, after all, needs to go somewhere. The Midwestern entrepreneur has worked hard to woo farmers on its benefits for their crops.

Now, facing a global shortage of commercial fertilizers made worse by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, more U.S. growers are knocking on his door. Sandquist says they're clamoring to get their hands on something Old MacDonald would swear by: old-fashioned animal manure. read more

"I wish we had more to sell," said Sandquist, founder of Natural Fertilizer Services Inc, a nutrient management firm based in the U.S. state of Iowa. "But there's not enough to meet the demand."

ClareBroommaker's picture

"Time to consider humanure for the garden?"

Maybe if you live on at least an acre. But for people who live similarly to me, there is not space to do a humanure set up, what with its need for reserves of straw or leaves or such, as well as the composting structures. So nope.

Besides, most of my food gardening has been fine with just a little homemade compost plus the input of autumn leaves, cut grass (mostly from neighbors as my own lawn is too small now), prunings from shrubs (working on that this week), occasionally scrounged straw or woodchips. I don't need to use commercial fertilizer for it. Don't need to replace commercial fertilizer with humanure.

My peaches do need more nitrogen than they could get from their straw, hay, green weed, and paper mulch. That's where not humanure, but dilute urine came into the picture. Once my newer trees take root, I think I'll be doing that again.

Now I have used cow manure for one food garden. The second garden I had in this area was on a block where lived a guy who owned the junk yard on the other side of the street. He was amused to see me double digging and moving wheel barrels of bricks, stones, glass, old pipes etc from the soil. One day he offered to drive me to the stockyards across the river for a pick-up of aged manure. Ah, you betcha I took up that offer. It cost $10 for a big machine to fill the truck all in one swoop. At that time, they were happy enough to get rid of any of it; It otherwise just sat there, passively composting and washing out for years. Very aged manure, even if it no longer has much mineral content, is still good for its fiber which will make for a softer, more water holding soil, friendly to all sorts of critters, microscopic or larger, which do our gardens good.

Another time I went with my friend to two different police stables to collect fresh manure in straw. Now that was interesting. We got chased away from the first and told "help yourselves" at the second. I know she used hers on tomatoes, but I used mine on ornamentals. If you use fresh, spread it quite thinly.

That article seems to be about larger scale food growing than I would call gardening. I think what goes on in farming can inform us in decision making for our lives and can hint at things we want to do or not do in our gardens, but I don't think it is always directly applicable. N-P-K shortages for farmers don't translate to N-P-K shortages for our gardens.

lathechuck's picture

The headline said "World could run out of wheat in 10 weeks". That's the click-bait. The actual article says "World stockpile of wheat is ten week supply." A lot can happen in ten weeks. Another story, which got NO attention, is the spring wheat harvest in China, to start in two weeks. Stockpiles naturally rise and fall between harvests. US winter wheat is harvested in late spring / early summer, while spring wheat is harvested in late summer / early fall. So, the chance of "running out of wheat" seems exaggerated to me.

There are 20 million tons of wheat (at risk of rot) stuck in Ukraine. How much is 20 million tons? By my calculation, it's a 5 day supply for everyone on Earth (if we eat nothing else). So, it's a substantial amount.