Guest Commentary by David Archibald
The area planted for corn and soybeans this season is well below historic averages. This was mostly due to waterlogged fields and flooding which precluded planting. The planting windows for corn and soybeans are now closed. The USDA crop progress reports provide weekly updates by state. For example this is the state of the corn crop in Indiana to Monday June 17:
Figure 1: Indiana corn crop progress to Monday June 17.
The emerged crop is one month behind where it was in 2018. Which means that maturity will be one month later at best, assuming that the rest of the summer isn’t abnormally cold.
Figure 2 shows that the same situation in soybeans in Indiana:
Figure 2: Indiana soybean crop progress to Monday June 17.
The current expectation is that the US corn crop will be down 30% on 2018 which will push the price to about $9.00 per bushel at harvest. What could make the situation a lot worse is an early frost. The Corn Belt did warm slightly over the last 100 years due to the high solar activity of the second half of the 20th century. This is shown by the cumulative growing degree days (GDD) of the first decade of the 20th century (blue lines) compared to the first decade of the 21st century (red lines) in Figure 3 for Whitestown, Indiana:
Figure 3: Cumulative GDD for Whitestown, Indiana
Normally, for the 21st century, the corn crop is in the ground by April 27 and the crop has reached maturity with 2,500 GDD well before the normal first frost date for Whitestown of October 10. The earliest recorded date for Whitestown is September 3. That was in 1908. If that is repeated in 2019 the crop will be only 80% through its growth cycle. Yield and quality will be well down and the total crop may be 50% or less of the 2018 level.
The US will be able to feed itself but at much higher prices. Currently some 40% of the corn crop goes to ethanol production and this could be redirected to animal feed without too much trouble. But protein production would still be well down. Each 56 lb bushel of corn used in ethanol production results in 18 lbs of dried distillers grains (DDG) containing the protein. This is used as a feed supplement to pigs, chickens and cattle. Both pigs and chickens have a 25% conversion efficiency of vegetable protein to animal protein. The global warmers want us to adopt vegetarianism in order to save the planet. The public is going to get a taste of that future coming up soon. However animal fat is essential for infant neurological development and brain function so we can’t go completely vegetarian.
What is happening in the Corn Belt is a mini version of the transition from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age. The population of Europe exploded in benign conditions of the Medieval Warm Period from 1000 AD to 1300 AD, reaching population levels that weren’t matched again until the 19th century. In fact parts of rural France have less population today than at the beginning of the 14th century.
The breakover from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age in Europe had sustained periods of bad weather characterised by severe winters and rainy and cold summers. The Great Famine of 1315 – 1317 started with bad weather in the spring of 1315. Crop failures lasted through 1316 until the summer of 1317. The population decline over the two years is thought to be about 10%, associated with “extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death, cannibalism and infanticide.” These conditions may be less in the Mormons amongst us who are instructed to keep one year’s worth of food in stock.
The Modern Warm Period ended in 2006. Current solar activity is back to levels of the Little Ice Age. To paraphrase Santayana, those who don’t remember history are condemned to being surprised and unprepared when it repeats itself.
A large and increasing number of nations are feeding their population growth with imported grain. That is going to be become more expensive to continue, with or without an early frost in the Corn Belt. Global warming hysteria has been a consequence of very benign conditions for the OECD countries where it is concentrated. That angst will be supplanted by more basic concerns.
David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare