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Analyst:?Grain crunch coming

By Staff | Mar 11, 2011

By LARRY?KERSHNER Farm News news editor During a national teleconference with media on Wednesday, an environmental analyst said he foresees a long-term looming grain crunch for the U.S., and rationing may not be an option. Lester Brown, who founded the Worldwatch Institute in 1974, said the world has moved into an “overshoot and collapse” mode meaning that food demand has outgrown the sustainable yields of natural systems. Brown’s discussion with reporters Wednesday pointed to worldwide adverse weather effects in 2010 and thus far in 2011 that has seen worldwide grain supplies and it may get worse. He said with China’s emerging middle class, along with its present drought that is expected to reduce its wheat supply from 115 million tons in 2010 to 110 million tons in 2011 — that country may have to go to the world market to meet its demands. He said China historically has resisted going heavy into the world grain market, but expect that will have to change. “Our nightmare,” Brown told reporters, “is if China comes in, it’ll come to the U.S. and we’ll be competing with the Chinese for our grain crops.” He said the U.S. may be tempted to ration grain and close exports as it did in the late-Nixon years when it cut grain from the Japanese, “But China is now our banker. “Like it or not, we’ll be sharing our grain crop with China and it will push (market prices) to levels we’ve never imagined before.” Brown discussed why estimating world grain production is becoming more complex, and why there was a time when grain production was on the rise almost everywhere. However, due to aquifer depletion, severe soil erosion and rising temperatures, the world of stable grain yields is history. “In January world food prices reached the highest level on record. Because rising food prices are already a source of spreading hunger and political unrest, this year’s harvest will be one of the most closely watched in years,” Brown said. For example, three of the world’s big four wheat producers — China, the United States and Russia — are collectively suffering from severe drought and potentially low yields. “China, the leading wheat producer, is suffering the worst drought in its winter wheat-growing region in 60 years,” Brown said.

Organic can’t keep up To attempt to reach a stable grain market, Brown said organic farming could not meet the world’s need, likewise organic fertilizing. He there is no advantage in farming organic and went as far to say that conventional fertilizers are not enough to replenish overworked soils. “We don’t have enough organic materials in the soil. We are exporting our nutrients and we can’t replace them. “Our only (sustainable) source,“?Brown said, “for fields like Kansas and Iowa, for example, is chemical fertilizers — mines phosphorus and potash.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

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