Midwest Flooding, the Corn and Soy Crops, and Knock-On Effects

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Let’s jump right in and get a sense of the scale and scope of the flooding. Here’s a map of the flooding from the United States Geological Service (USGS) as of today, June 9, 2019:

The black triangles, as you can see, show flooding, and there are rather a lot of them. As best I can determine, the aqua (“95-98”) and blue (“>=99”) show the streamflow value compared to 30 years of average streamflow conditions, where streamflow is “the amount of water flowing in a river.” So, add 1% plus a smidge to a blue (99) triangle, and you have a flood.

And here — because it’s hard to plant when your field is mud, even if your field isn’t flooded — is a map of soil moisture from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as of yesterday, June 8, 2019:

Calculated soil moisture anomaly is “is intended to reflect the degree of dryness or saturation of the soil compared with normal conditions,” in this case by measuring departure from a 1971-2000 dataset, measured in millimeters. From NOAA:

[S]oil moisture is the water that is held in the spaces between soil particles. Surface soil moisture is the water that is in the upper 10 cm of soil, whereas root zone soil moisture is the water that is available to plants, which is generally considered to be in the upper 200 cm of soil.

Taking a moment to break out my calculator, 10cm is 3.9 inches, and (from the map) those dark green areas are saturated to depth of 160m = 6.29 inches, and even the light green areas to a depth of 100mm = 3.9 inches, so for vast areas of the Midwest, the surface soil is waterlogged, and for lesser but still vast areas, the root zone is waterlogged too.

For those less arithmetically minded, here is the requisite image of a flooded farm:

And here is drone footage of the Missouri River in Southern Iowa:

(The photo and the video give me the opportunity to say I welcome comments from any actual farmers in the readership; doing my research for the post gave me some sense of how complex and risky the decisions that farmers must make are, and so I’d welcome revisions, extensions, and corrections.)

So, yikes. 1993-scale[1] yikes. With flooded fields and waterlogged soil all across the Midwest, we would expect planting to be bad, and so it is. The key concept — perhaps the locus of greatest risk[2]– seems to be the “planting window.” From the Washington Post:

Planting season is more loosely defined than you would think. Farmers are resilient, and commodity markets are responsive. Planting in June is so absurd that Midwest universities typically do not even test dates that late when determining optimal growing seasons, [University of Illinois economist Scott Irwin] said. But if fears of a bad crop spread and corn prices rise enough — they are already up about 20 percent since their mid-May low — some farmers will plant late crops, even if they are likely to harvest far less per acre. Even under the most generous definitions, much of the Corn Belt has only one hail-Mary planting window left. The coming week’s weather will make or break this year’s crop.

There are two key crops: Corn, and soy. The planting window for corn is about to close; the window for soy closes a little later. Here is a handy map from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis showing the difference between last year’s corn planting and this year’s, in percentage terms:

This year’s planting will be low. Very low. From Accuweather, “AccuWeather predicts another historic low for corn planting as ‘billion-dollar disaster’ looms

AccuWeather predicts corn planting will remain at its record-low rate when the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its latest Crop Progress report Monday.

A new AccuWeather analysis estimates 82% of corn will be reported as planted in the 18 key U.S. corn-producing states, an historic low for the second week of June since record keeping began in 1980.

Corn planting has been at an all-time low percentage for the last three reports and remains behind schedule in 17 of the 18 states monitored, according to the most recent Crop Progress.

Here is a handy chart (source) of acres left to plant, in numerical terms:

As you can see, at this time last year, Illinois corning planting was done. This year, they have over six million acres to go.

And now soy. A second map from the Federal Reserve, again in percentage terms:

Pacific Standard describes the situation:

Soybeans are usually planted later than corn, but they’re also behind schedule. For both commodities, government reports and industry projections have grown more dire by the month. ‘It’s the slowest time we’ve had going back to 1980 [when the agency began collecting the data],” says Anthony Prillaman, head of field crops at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Prillaman says it’s too early for analysts to predict losses, but “the feeling is that prevented plantings are going to be higher this year.”

(“Prevented planting” affects crop insurance claims[3], a topic which is definitely out of scope for this post, although it has a huge impact on farmer’s planting decisions.) The St Louis Fed once more:

Only 16% of soybean acres were planted through the week ending May 26, compared to 40% by the same time historically.

So, yikes, corn. Yikes, soy. Now let’s turn to knock-on effects from the flooding. I’ll look at effects on transportation networks, on trade, and on politics globally (i.e., not, for example, the Iowa caucuses, which are, after all [checks calculator], 239 days away, assuming the Democrats don’t rejigger the calendar).

Of transport, Bloomberg writes in “‘Punched in the Face’: U.S. Floods Snarl Trucks, Trains, Barges

Hundreds of barges are stalled on the Mississippi River, clogging the main circulatory system for a farm-belt economy battered by a relentless, record-setting string of snow, rainstorms and flooding.

Railways and highways have been closed as well, keeping needed supplies from farmers and others, and limiting the crops sent to market.

At just two locks along the upper Mississippi, almost 300 barges are being held in place as a result of high water and fast currents, according to Waterways Council Inc., which tracks barge movements. And hundreds more are waiting in St. Louis, Cairo, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee, said Deb Calhoun, the council’s senior vice president.

Almost 200 miles of the Mississippi has been shut down, [said Tim Eagleton, senior engineering specialist for FM Global, an industrial insurer] said.

Freightwaves writes:

Barges won’t be allowed to go through St. Louis until the Mississippi River falls to 38 feet, which may not happen until June 17…. “It’s going to be two or three months before we’re able to safely and consistently move cargo on the river,” Bryan Day, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority told KATV on June 4. “The negative economic impact—the loss of jobs, the cost of goods and delivery—you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Port of New Orleans on the Gulf Coast—or Port NOLA as it’s often called—is connected to America’s heartland by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. It handles a wide range of cargoes such as agricultural products, rubber, coffee, steel, containers, coal and manufactured goods. Several thousand vessels carry around 500 million tons of cargo up and down the Mississippi each year. This includes more than half of the country’s grain exports. The local New Orleans economy stands to take a hit as long as upstream barge traffic is paralyzed.

Barge grain movements have been decreasing recently, presumably because of the flooding (at least in part), as well as closed locks and stoppages at ports. Here’s what happened the week ending June 1: overall movements were 50 percent lower than the previous week, and 72 percent lower than the same period last year; 1, 153 grain barges moved down river for export from the New Orleans region, which is 171 fewer barges than the previous week.

So let’s just hope the Old River Control Structure doesn’t fail. Ha ha. I think. I guess my bottom line here — day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter business effects aside — is that we should start thinking of the transportation system in the Mississippi watershed as being much more fragile than we think of it is being. The mindset seems to be that things will “return to normal” when the floods recede. Maybe so. But, to spitball a future case study, we know there’s an enormous bottleneck of barges (300 at two locks alone), and the commercial pressures to move them will be huge. But suppose — like everywhere else — the MBAs have optimized the labor force, as was not the case in 1993, and there’s a shortage of the skilled labor to move them… So unskilled labor is thrown into the breach… And an errant barge takes out a bridge or a lock because the captain or pilot or lookouts didn’t know how to use whatever the equivalent of MCAS is on a barge. So then the river is shut down again. What then?

Of trade, the case of soy seems most interesting. There is, of course, the Trump tariff subplot. The Los Angeles Times:

It doesn’t help that the world’s largest soybean purchaser, China, has apparently put purchases of the commodity — resumed in December as a goodwill gesture — on hold amid a ramp-up of its trade dispute with the Trump administration. The move is seen as targeting the president’s Midwestern political base.

But — plot twist! — an even bigger question is whether we’ll be able to deliver to China the soybeans we’ve already sold them (see barges, supra). From Reuters, “U.S. soy exporters struggle with huge China export commitments in midst of trade war

U.S. soybean exporters are facing what may be their busiest and most logistically challenging summer due to an unprecedented backlog of soybeans purchased by China that still needs to be shipped and widespread floods in the U.S. Midwest. Some 7 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans bought before talks broke down last month will need to be delivered to Beijing in coming months, U.S. exporters and industry analysts said.

China would face steep penalties if it tried to cancel the orders and, as the world’s top soy importer, it still needs the soybeans, traders said. Cancellations of deals made during trade talks earlier this year could also escalate diplomatic tensions.

“You have a contractual obligation so you’re going to need a mutually agreed-upon cancellation price or it would be considered default,” said a U.S.-based soy exporter who asked not to be named.

Yikes.

Of politics globally, U.S. farmers supply a quarter of the world’s grains. Let’s assume that the Midwest flooding leads to a decreased supply of corn (and soy), and hence increased prices for foodstuffs that take those products as inputs. From Scientic American, “Climate Change and Rising Food Prices Heightened Arab Spring“:

If the Arab Spring taught us something, it is that the effects of climate change can serve as stressors, contributing to regional instability and conflict, experts said.

In a report published last week, researchers from the Center for American Progress, the Center for Climate and Security and the Stimson Center examined the role of climate change in the Middle East’s upheaval during 2010 and 2011. Looking at long-term trends in rain, crops, food prices and migration, they were able to determine how these factors contributed to social instability in the region.

“The Arab Spring would likely have come one way or another, but the context in which it did is not inconsequential. Global warming may not have caused the Arab Spring, but it may have made it come earlier,” the report says.

The Middle East and North Africa region is extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in food supplies and prices. According to the report, with little arable land and scarce water supplies, the region is one of the top food importers in the world.

As the Bourbons learned to their distress, food riots are bad (certainly if you’re a Bourbon.) Besides the Middle East, and thinking of corn, we might consider our neighbor Mexico — since our insane NAFTA policies destroyed their local varietals and capabilities, replacing them with the product of a Corn Belt now underwater or soggy, and likely to be so more in the future. Or we might consider China, where the price of pork could rise 70% this year because of swine flu. What happens if we can’t deliver on their soy? The villagers won’t be happy at all, especially the ones whose children can’t send home money from Foxconn any more.

* * *

So, yikes seems to sum it up; I hope this review has been helpful. The behemoth in the room is, of course, climate change, and I will get to that in a post later this week.

NOTES

[1] In the previous great flood, in 1993, “At least 787 levees either failed or were overtopped. At least 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. NOAA estimated damages of $37.3 billion (2019 dollars) from the flood, making it the nation’s costliest non-tropical inland flood.” Until now!

[2] WaPo: “Farmers could switch to soybeans, but then they would find themselves even more exposed to President Trump’s trade war with China, the world’s largest soybean market. And beans face many of the same planting issues as corn, Newlin said. But the alternative is to bow out and collect crop insurance.” And the Guardian: “Since Trump wiped out our soybean market – three-quarters of Iowa’s beans were bound for China – he threw farmers and livestock producers $12bn in trade disaster aid. Farmers call it the “Trump bump”. Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue announced another bump last week: $16bn to be targeted at the farm counties worst hit by losses in soy and pork trade. Nobody out here knows how much it will be or who gets paid. What they do know is that to get any of this next Trump bump you must plant a crop this year, come hell or high water.” My head hurts, and I’m not even a farmer.

[3] Flood insurance for homes, also important, is also out of scope for this post.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

56 comments

  1. TroyIA

    The link I sent in a couple of weeks ago didn’t make the cut but this has been an ongoing issue all spring. Here in god’s corn growing country of Iowa it is so strange to see fields that have always had corn growing in them completely unplanted on June 9th. The fields that have been planted are at least 3-4 weeks behind schedule and if we have ANY weather that is not ideal this summer we will have a short crop this fall.
    My personal prediction is that the U.S. may have to import corn from Brazil and Argentina to prevent food prices from spiking this winter. Go short ethanol producers and livestock producers and go long John Deere and Mideast revolutions.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith

      Just so you know, link readers send too often don’t get posted for reasons that have nothing to do with the merit of the material. Lambert likes to forage on Twitter, so he takes hardly any of the links I forward. And for me, it very much depends on the time of day when they come in. I have the bad habit of working through my inbox backwards, usually in the later afternoon or early evening, so I regularly miss AM messages of all sorts. So please don’t take it personally!

      Oh, I see Lambert just said the same thing!

      Reply
  2. sleepy

    I’m not a farmer but I live in a rural area of northern Iowa and while there’s not been much flooding up here things were persistently and abnormally wet and muddy through May.

    I drive around today and would estimate that perhaps 20% of the fields around here are unplanted. I have never seen that before, not even close. I have seen absolutely zero soybeans planted.

    Reply
    1. Left in Wisconsin

      Happened to drive up to Minneapolis from Madison WI and back this weekend and saw lots of standing water the entire way – not deep like the photos my sister sent me from near Omaha but you can see that the water table is right up to the surface across much of WI. Some of this is cranberry bog so not unexpected, but much is not.

      Reply
    2. Lunker Walleye

      I drove to Corning, IA this past week along Hwy 34 and Hwy 92 and saw scrubby-looking fields with spotty rows of poor corn plants. There was standing water in many low-lying areas. Typically by this time of year, one sees lush, regular rows of green. I don’t ever recall this many unplanted fields the first week of June, echoing Sleepy.

      Reply
      1. barefoot charley

        I flew to Chicago from Oakland last week as I’ve done for decades, peering out the window as usual. I was stunned by standing water in fallow fields across the Midwest and into the High Plains. Never seen anything like it.

        Also, as a former river rat I love seeing barge traffic on the Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri rivers. I saw none, and appreciate the explanation, Lambert!

        Reply
  3. Madarka

    I was thinking about this last night. These facts coupled with the swine flu epidemic and lower wheat yields in Russia due to unsettled weather in the Baltic will lead to higher meat and grain prices all over the globe. With the ongoing drought in Central America and the Caribbean I would expect the migrant caravans will increase in size and frequency as the year progresses, which will likely affect domestic US politics and galvanize some of Trump’s nativist base. 2020 is getting more complex by the day

    Reply
    1. lblos

      It’s African Swine Fever, NOT swine flu. I think this is an important distinction, because African Swine Fever, while deadly for pigs, is not transmissible to humans.

      Reply
  4. Hopelb

    Imagine if Trump called right now for an Ag Marshal Plan! Asking huge lawn owning suburbanites, unaffected by the flooding , to immediately uproot their lawns and plant corn, soy, wheat, and potatoes (whatever as Trump is likely to say) with the displaced farmers’ guidance? He could even call them Victory gardens ( though of course, he would be signaling to the climate deniers, his belief that we can easily overcome growing zones). What is great about this plan is that it would introduce suburbanites to growing food which would inevitably lead to a competition for best practices e.g. gmo seeds or organic, fertilizer or compost from the neighborhood etc.). Though on the down side, it might win him the Presidency again. On second thought, Bernie should be introducing this idea now. Then. Bernie can say Trump stole it, as Trump stole many of Bernie’s talking points during the 2016.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      And then you harvest all those crops manually with scythe and thresh it on the roads with the combine harvesters fed by hand? Do you then load into sacks or have trucks standing by blocking the roads?

      Reply
    2. Arizona Slim

      I am named for my mother’s maternal grandmother. She was a Victory Gardener who fed eight people. Location of my great grandmother’s garden: Buffalo, New York.

      Reply
      1. Peter

        Of course one can feed oneself partially without purchasing- I was just toying with the idea of turning frontlawns into soy and wheat fileds…
        We garden ourselves, keep chicken for eggs and some ducks for the occasional roast, have raised beds for the veggies (for my wifes convenience and to protect against weeds) but still have to buy grain, fish, milk, butter etc.
        We also buy a lot from those around here who grow oranges, potatoes at a little bigger scale.

        Things will change, but we are not longer living at a density 100 years ago, and worldwide we are close to 8 billion wanting energy, food, shelter and clothing.

        The climate change will of course also affect our gardening efforts, and not every urban area is amenable to it. The viability depends on soil, rainfall, climate in general.
        We had a garden in Northwest Canadá – planting late May – early June, and the first frosts usually killed the beans by late August or early September – or any time in between.

        The efforts are needed, but are only part of a solution – and one problem is the aggregat demand on the earth by eventually more than ten billion humans.

        Reply
  5. Hopelb

    Imagine if Trump called right now for an Ag Marshal Plan! Asking huge lawn owning suburbanites, unaffected by the flooding , to immediately uproot their lawns and plant corn, soy, wheat, and potatoes (whatever as Trump is likely to say) with the displaced farmer guidance? He could even call them Victory gardens ( though of course, he would be signaling to the climate deniers, his belief that we can easily overcome growing zones). What is great about this plan is that it would introduce suburbanites to growing food which would inevitably lead to a competition for best practices e.g. gmo seeds or organic, fertilizer or compost from the neighborhood etc.). Though on the down side, it might win him the Presidency again. On second thought, Bernie should be introducing this idea now. Then. Bernie can say Trump stole it, as Trump stole many of Bernie’s talking points during the 2016.

    Reply
  6. mega mike

    I just was at the Mississippi river on S. Broadway St. Louis 40min ago and NOTHING is moving on it! Barges are anchored and backed up as far as the eye can see!

    Reply
  7. Jeotsu

    As a small-scale farmer for the last 16 years, thank you.

    It feels like the neoliberalism ideology has permeated so deeply into our culture that now people have no idea where food comes from. it is simply generated (magically) by “the market” in response to demand. We’re lucky enough to be pastoralists, which means rain being too much, too little, too early or too late is not so crippling for our own operations (unless really, really severe). Yes, this means we some times have to bring in feed, which is possible when disruptions are small enough that not everyone everywhere is affected.

    “Modern” agriculture has done so much in the last 50 yers to make itself very fragile that it beggars the imagination. Monocultures, soil carbon depletion, wiping out all the frickin insects, the list goes on and on.

    In NZ I really don’t like watching the increasing of “intensification” in the various pastoral systems (Drystock and Dairy). It’s why NZ now contributes to the destruction of Indosnesian rain forests to feed the palm kernal extract (PKE) needs of the dairy farmers. It’s killing the waterways with way too many nitrates in the runoff. Yet it is sen as the “economically rational” choice, Gods help us.

    As an aside, for those who have not read it yet, the “The Silk Roads” by Frankopan (2013) a read. The discussions (very well foot-noted) of the timing of Barbaroosa (invasion of Soviet Union) and its relationships to the Ukrainian wheat harvest were quite enlightening.

    Food scarcity is a huge driver of conflict (see the Syrian drought in 2011), and the fragility of our systems leaves people much more vulnerable than they think.

    Reply
    1. Oregoncharles

      We dry a lot of our own fruit and nuts, as the most practical way to store them – and as a candy substitute.

      As I’ve described before, we also buy staples – beans, rice, oatmeal; not corn – by the bag and store them in plastic buckets in the pump house. We started doing this mainly to save money, as the Co-op gives a 10% discount on case or bag lots (we buy toilet paper and other things the same way), but it means we have maybe 6 months’ worth of staples at all times. Cheap insurance, if you have the space, and not all that selfish: that’s three people emergency services don’t have to worry about feeding in a disaster, or a neighborhood for a shorter time. My chief concern is water if we don’t have power to pump it – I could easily cook over wood. Well, not easily, but we could do it. Hauling water from the river does not appeal – it isn’t very clean. I suppose we should really buy a generator.

      I don’t consider us “survivalists;” as I said, this mostly saves money and shopping trips. But I do consider our supply lines very shaky – for one thing, a subduction quake offshore would be about Magnitude 8 here.

      Reply
      1. freedomny

        Re water – You can get a product called “waterbob” that you put in your tub and fill it in an emergency situation. Each tub holds 40-50 gallons of water. Also you can get very effective water filters that aren’t expensive…

        Reply
  8. Bruce F

    We have about 300 acres in organic row crops. You’ve put together a nice summary. If you’re looking for the opinions of farmers, not sure how many of us read Naked Capitalism, check out the Forums at New Ag Talk.

    Here’s what turned up when I searched “Flood” across all their Forums.

    As with a lot of forums, there’s good and bad comments. Occasionally a gem.

    Reply
  9. The Rev Kev

    I suppose that a marker for when climate change gets really bad is when most people will rip out their lawns and plant food gardens as mentioned by Hopelb. It will mean that food production is too far gone or the food transportation situation, like those barges, is too chaotic to assure regular food supplies. Trouble is any food grown in them may be contaminated by pesticides and the like used on those previous lawns.
    And if the US cannot supply the soybean contracted to China, then I guess that the US will have to purchase the soy from South America to make up the difference and take the hit on their bottom line. Trouble is too, it reminds me of how during the Irish famine of the 1840s, that the British forced the Irish to keep exporting food as they had contracts to be filled thereby letting a million people starve to death. What happens worldwide if climate disruption screws up food harvests around the world at the same time? And food producing nations start demanding gold rather than scrip?

    Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that link. I took a quick scan and have now bookmarked it for later study. You know what a big worry is? I understand that when starting a garden that it usually takes about three years of growing crops before you have an idea what you are doing. I read too that in the 19th century, that it took three years to turn a person into a farm worker that did not have to be told what to do next. Question is, will we have those three years to experiment with? A joke that I heard is that ten years after society collapses and the rations run out, you will find skeletons of hard-core “survivalists” in unsuccessful gardens draped with assault rifles, bullet-proof armour and medpacs where they starved to death.

        Reply
        1. Svante

          Five decades ago…

          I’d tried innoculating legumes, cover crop to break through my hometown’s hard pan. I had no idea what I was doing each place I’d lived. It was very heavily polluted from coal, steel, glass, aluminum industries; such that soil testing our community gardens did (we were lucky enough to have university volunteers, as well as agents) were finding stuff like heavy metals that would’ve rendered greens, like Brassica poisonous. Even ash from Heinz, let alone soil conditioners like pearlite/ vermiculite had issues we were simply drooling idiots about. Now, everybody down there seems to have chickens and goats, but Japanese honeysuckle, bamboo, kudzu, and wild hops are strangling the trees not infested with parasites.

          https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-06-07/why-we-need-small-farms-2/

          Reply
        2. albrt

          In my experience, many people have beginner’s luck the first time they try to grow something, at least with a few of the things they plant. But then the problems start coming along when you try to do the same thing year after year. The bugs and diseases get established, or maybe it was just luck and the weather is a little different the second year.

          Gardening can be a very satisfying hobby, even on a small bit of ground and even if it doesn’t pay for itself when you are experimenting. By year 10 or so you might be able to figure out how to contribute to your food budget on a reliable basis. Maybe by year 5 if food gets really expensive.

          Reply
          1. Svante

            As you say, it sometimes takes time for our little friends to show up. You’ve only gained confidence (BS assumptions ) that you’ve mastered something, then some little critters show up for midnight snack (and you didn’t realize you’d invited them?) Annoying to the hobbiest… I can’t imagine trying to stay ahead of weeds and hundry varmints (in the Poconos, some had antlers, teeth or claws, others could fly.

            https://www.highmowingseeds.com/blog/pest-management-on-the-small-farm/

            Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Most places where I have lived, mass-built suburban subdivisions, had their topsoil scraped off to make the ground flat and even for laying in the house foundations. Lift of the the carpet of grass, usually trucked in from a sod farm, and the hard pack or clay below would take a lot of work to turn it into anything resembling soil.

      Reply
  10. VietnamVet

    Thanks. This paints a picture much worse than I saw on my google trips. This is all tied together. American Airlines is postponing scheduling of 737 Max flights to September. “Know-nothing Know-it-all” is the only way to describe current Elite. The neoliberal system is designed to make extraordinary amount of money for the 1% by decreasing the health, safety and life expectancy of everyone else. Denial is the only way they can live with themselves. Surveillance, imprisonment, and propaganda keeps the exploitation going. Food riots will bring it down.

    Reply
  11. Ptb

    Corn is way overproduced b/c of subsidy, as evidenced by the mind boggling way we waste it:

    Nearly 40% of US corn is used to make feedstock for fuel ethanol (per USDA).

    Besides consuming copious amounts of water and natural gas (fertilizer and refining fuel), and a waste of land use, it is THE most inefficient way to make motor fuel.

    The EROI of corn ethanol in north America is estimated at 1.2 +/-0.4

    In other words barely above breakeven. Using nearly as much energy (carbon) to make the fuel, in addition to the product itself which is then going to be burned.

    Any alternate land use, including just letting trees grow wild and using regular fuel instead would be better (and incidentally would help w/ flooding).

    The distillation step in particular is the killer, using over 60% of the energy to make ethanol, so there is also the option of burning the corn directly, which would drastically reduce the carbon footprint per energy.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Any alternate land use, including just letting trees grow wild and using regular fuel instead would be better (and incidentally would help w/ flooding).

      You’re quite right. Ethanol is crazy pants.

      Reply
      1. Jerry

        No, not 30% of the crop, but 30% of the soybean oil which is itself only 20% of the bean. So about 6% of the soybean crop now goes to biodiesel. I think this is good news compared to using corn for ethanol.

        Reply
  12. Cal2

    Meat will certainly get more expensive, junk meat, not grass fed.
    Fast food therefore will go up.
    Discontented masses. Spells trouble.

    Reply
    1. rd

      Mid-west corn and soy are used in industrial food production, including feed lots etc. If you are trying to eat fruits and vegetables with pasture raised meat, then you are already paying a fair amount for food but this won’t change your prices much.

      Reply
      1. sd

        Corn as fodder – unless something has changed since I was a kid, corn fodder is an important part of the feed for dairy cows.

        Reply
        1. Oregoncharles

          Usually grown at the dairy or nearby, though. It’s used green or fermented, so not real transportable. And the season is much shorter (they don’t wait for the seeds to dry down). Sweet corn might still do OK, for the same reason. It’s usually planted about now, around here.

          Of course, dairies also use a huge amount of grain, so they’ll be impacted that way.

          Reply
  13. Bernalkid

    Well Overshoot seems to arrive with a damp overture. Always imagined a mid west crop collapse resulting from drought.

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    1. rjs

      i’ve got a half acre garden in northeast Ohio and the wet years are always the worst; the weeds and disease will beat you before summer is over…i’ll take a drought anytime; i can mulch & the crops will always find a deeper root zone…

      Reply
  14. Jim

    Last Fall (2018) was very wet, farmers in Ohio & Indiana had a very difficult time harvesting their crop due to the wet conditions. Many farmers were harvesting into December, some were gleaning the last dregs of their crop in March 2019! Imagine this coming Fall is as wet as this Spring. Harvesting will grind to a halt. Mature standing corn or soybeans degrades over time, rotting & molding etc. Corn & Soybeans are used primarily as industrial feed-stocks and as animal feed. This fall, we may see a wholesale liquidation of pigs & chickens due to the scarcity of corn & soybeans suitable to be processed into animal feed.

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    1. Jerry

      This is awfully alarmist. Corn and beans are volatile markets but they are not doing much now. Corn has drifted lower the last two weeks. Beans are cheap yet due to big oversupply from last year and loss of China market.

      I finished planting the wet spots in my NW Iowa corn fields today. I think most all the planting of corn and beans is done in this county.

      Remember: Rain makes grain. If it has been planted, it almost always does well when there is lots of rain. 1993 was a rare exception when we had both late planting and a wet summer.

      Reply
  15. Susan the other`

    Interesting comment on Mexico. Their corn varieties might have a renaissance now. One thing to love about this awful devastation is that it blows Monsanto and glyphosate out of the water, so to speak. It might put them away permanently. I’m hoping the farm belt isn’t all “can do” about recuperating their old production and export status. That could be foolish and expensive. This will happen again next year. Probably be best if the flood land did a little drainage and terracing where it’s possible to do so. Maybe clean out all the culverts and dredge all the muck out of the rivers. And then plant a wide variety of crops and much less for export. There are other countries that can participate in agricultural production and can fill the gap. It’s just that we have been so monolithic and productive, practicing every angle to increase our exports, that we have marginalized South America and Africa. I can only imagine the hundreds of billions of trade deficit that will be the result of this disaster. Big reset coming.

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  16. William Hunter Duncan

    Corn and Soybeans are much of the problem.

    You can’t plow the breadbasket every year and expect the land to be flood resilient.

    On the micro scale, here in Minneapolis, MN, there is a long ongoing controversy about a municipal golf course called Hiawatha. It is officially a flood plain. From 1880-2008, we averaged about 27in of precipitation in the Twin Cities. Since 2009, we have averaged 35in. That means Hiawatha golf course is increasingly saturated. Many houses nearby have increasing water in their basements.

    Shallow rooted turf grass is a lot like corn and soy, and plowing, the soil is not then flood resilient. A forested land or established prairie is very deep rooted, stabilizing soil, building soil over time, which is flood resilient.

    Also, we have geoengineered our rivers and creeks such that they exacerbate flooding.

    More precipitation plus fencerow to fencerow industrial ag and shallow rooted turf grass is a recipe for disaster, and long term collapse. The proof is everywhere increasing. We don’t own the planet and we can’t control it. Get over it.

    Reply

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