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What in the World?

Global agriculture upheaval could be boon for US economy

Jul 08, 2022


We’ve heard for weeks about the looming worldwide food crisis being generated by the war in Ukraine. The price of food continues to rise, in part because the Russians are blocking Ukrainian ports, and shipments of wheat are going nowhere. About 30% of the world’s wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine, which could impact nearly 50 million people, but the problem extends beyond grains. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says the food uncertainty is bad news for many countries, but not for the U.S. He believes agriculture is poised to be a major growth sector in our economy.

Excerpted from Peter’s July 1 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Few industries are going to see as much upheaval in coming years as global agriculture. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the volatility of global fertilizer and fuel markets, shipping and transport challenges and more are complicating every step of the process from planting crops to the delivery of food to grocery stores and ultimately our plates. To say nothing of inflation. While the outlook for global food supply remains bleak, there are a few bright spots. Namely, the United States.

Hey everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Iowa State University, where I’m about to go on stage and give a presentation. 

Now I know some of you on the coast are like, oh, Ames, Iowa. Hmm. Isn’t that like where the agronomics program is, if you even know that. Yes, yes, it is along with Purdue… one of the best agriscience programs in the world. And I realize that for some of you, that might be a little, you know, (pretends to fall asleep) … but, between the Ukraine War and the breakdown of fertilizer supply chains we’re seeing, agriculture is the sector facing the most threat over the course of the next 10 to 20 years. And it will result in multi continental famines. 

The folks here in Ames are working on ways to mitigate that however they can. We’re looking at malnutrition for a minimum of a half a billion people later this year. That will probably triple next year and it will get significantly worse from there before it gets better. 

Which means that not tech, not cell phones, not manufacturing, not energy. It’s agriculture that in the aggregate and in the relative sense is going to be seeing the most explosive growth in the American economy for decades to come. Because if you don’t have a car, your life slows down. If you don’t have energy, your life gets a little dark. But if you don’t have food, that’s it, it’s over. Food comes first. 

And we’re looking at a period of abject shortages for quite some time. Now the picture is going to be different, where if you’re talking rice versus wheat versus corn versus soy versus pork versus beef and all the rest, but we are gonna see massive reductions in all of them moving forward. Part of it’s just the nature of the beast. When we globalized, everyone learned to specialize. It was all about the extra value add.

And we didn’t have to necessarily worry about growing sufficient food for our own plates. So we got into better things. We moved into manufacturing and services. We moved into the cities and that meant that agriculture went from the center of everyone’s life, to the edge. Something that became reliable, but more secure and safe that globalization became. 

But that’s now all working in reverse. 

Countries are going to have to grow their own food. And that means the volume of food that is produced in the world is actually going to go down because we now grow things like wheat on marginal land that could not support agriculture without mass fertilization and irrigation. And those technologies are not possible in a de-globalized system. 

Okay. That’s it on that topic. I’m also happy to report that we made the bestsellers list for the second week running for “The End of the World is Just the Beginning.” We also moved up a couple of slots and we are now ahead of Matthew McConaughey, which has always been kind of a life goal. Nothing against you, Matt, you’re fantastic. Love you lots, love your work, but I’m better because you know, the New York Times says so. Okay. That’s it for me until next time.

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