Perhaps it’s prophetic that Ukraine upped its grain planting forecast just before Easter. Earlier in the Russian invasion, it sure seemed like it would take a miracle there for grain acreage, and later harvests, to be anywhere near normal.
But the latest news out of Ukraine is good, at least compared to what was expected.
Last Friday, the country’s agriculture ministry revised up its forecast for the area to be sown to 2022 spring crops. Normally, Ukrainian farmers would seed nearly 17 million hectares of grain (one hectare equals almost 2.5 acres). Their harvests would go on to contribute significantly to the world’s grain supply.
This year, the war was expected to drop that total to 13.4 million hectares. Farmers were fighting the Russian army and couldn’t tend to planting. Those who weren’t serving as soldiers were short on inputs such as seed and fertilizer.
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Then, for some reason, the estimate changed.
The ministry didn’t say why, but on Friday, it announced the forecast was being increased to 14 million hectares.
And that was a movement in the right direction for a world walking on eggshells, and one of the lone bits of good news to emerge from the war.
Unfortunately, the planting uptick falls well short of anything that would allay fears of food systems everywhere being in for a rough ride.
On Tuesday, US treasury secretary Janet Yellen noted that even before the war, more than 800 million people were suffering from chronic food insecurity. The latest estimates show food prices could mean at least 10 million more people become poverty stricken, she added.
The war is underlining to the world the intricacies of food production, and how we have taken so much for granted, for so long – especially, a secure food supply at a reasonable price. We’ve been privileged to have so much disposable income available for non-essentials. That will change noticeably as inflation grows and prices rise.
In fact, it seems like a perfect storm is brewing on so many horizons.
Poultry and eggs, for example, are usually economical and available in spades, particularly in Canada where their supply is regulated. Lately, though, prices are spiking because of a rapidly spreading flu that devastates flocks. It ran rampant through North America seven years ago, and now it’s back.
Poultry and eggs are not only a consumer staple, but a manufacturing staple as well. So, there’s another blow to the supply chain that’s already under the gun, and to consumer prices, which are skyrocketing.
Hanging over all this is the unsettling possibility that those with food will horde it, and those without… well, they’ll starve. The Group of Seven advanced economies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – is calling on other food-producing countries to keep their trade markets open, not to stockpile and not impose export restrictions on anything related to food or food production.
But remember how you shopped last Saturday, knowing the stores would be closed for Easter? You didn’t want to come up short for your family. And neither do the countries with food.