Friday, February 11, 2011

A Final Word on the Krugman Debunking, Climate Change, and Ethanol's Global Grain Diversion

Many of you have read my article, "Debunking Krugman: NYT's "Soaring Food Prices - Blame the Weather"" in which I mainly took his outrageous statement "WE'VE HAD A HUGE GLOBAL HARVEST FAILURE" from the introductory paragraph of his article and demonstrated that this was far from true last year.

Today I'd like to point out one more statistic that really debunks Krugman's point blaming weather for his false claim. He based his claim of a global harvest failure upon the drought in the Russian/Ukraine region which led to a third reduction in their wheat output compared to the year before. If you missed it, I explained that this agriculturally risky region dries out two of every five years, on average. Total global wheat production fell 5% in 2010 from 2009, and that was in part due to lower plantings because of a surplus causing lower prices. So that wheat story pales in comparison to the 15% of global corn production that the U.S. is taking off the market to make ethanol.

That means that in 2010, global wheat production was down approximately 34 million tonnes. This compares to the U.S. using a rate of 125 million tonnes of corn a year to make ethanol.

Krugman made many additional posts about food and climate change for the next few days following the post that I debunked and one was in the #1 most-read spot for the NYTs at one point. He even made a post explaining how he was bored with sticking to macro economics and liked to venture off-topic:

...the trouble with being a successful senior academic is that it’s all too easy to get into a rut, to spend your time doing minor twiddles on the work that made you a big wheel

But I did enjoy this confession of his because I could identify with it purr-fectly:

My support staff consists of two housecats.

In the style of his first article on food which I debunked, he finished up his venture into global food production by reiterating the FAO's Tuesday morning announcement about China's drought threatening its wheat supply which he saw as reinforcement of proof to his original theory that climate change had caused a global crop failure last year. If this news about China's weather was new to him, it wasn't to those of us who follow agriculture on a daily basis.

By no means am I trying to dismiss this serious story, but when I saw this headline from SIFY today Snowfall brings respite to wheat crops in China it led me to comment and write today's entire post.

Light to moderate snowfall has brought relief to the winter wheat crops in drought-hit areas of China, where more than seven million hectares of farmland have been affected due to a lingering drought. The snowfall occurred Thursday in the parched grain-producing provinces of Anhui, Henan, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong and Jiangsu, said Yang Guiming, chief forecaster of the National Meteorological Centre. The southern parts of Henan province and the western and northern parts of Anhui province have received snowfall ranging from 11 mm to 23 mm, the China Daily reported. 'But the volume, so far, is small so its drought-relief effect is limited,' said Yang. 'The snow came at the right time, especially in Jiangsu, Anhui and southern parts of Henan province, where the winter wheat is undergoing a crucial growing period,' Lu Bu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the daily.

This example serves to make my next point. I'd like to share some psychology that I've observed over the years. Since I grew up on a farm, I can tell you that during every single year of growing season, I heard this from my family "It is a terrible year. The harvest cannot possibly be very good this year. We just haven't gotten enough rain," or whatever. Then during harvest, almost every year I'd hear this, "We can't believe the harvest. It is probably our best year ever." And, those statements are coming from a dryland farm.

That observation on a personal level has been carried over to my observations of the media on a worldwide level. The media always dismisses the good agricultural production news, low prices, and food security issues and hypes up the fear and hysteria about running out of food. The reader panics and loves this stuff rewarding the media's work. But out in those farm fields we have real hard workers doing the same thing year after year to get the job done to feed the world and they do it. Sometimes I just have to sit back and marvel at how it comes together every single year not unlike a large and busy ant colony working together to achieve the exact same thing for its populations.

As far as covering Climate Change as it affects agriculture here on this blog, I am hoping to interview some local NCAR, NOAA, or CU experts within the next two months if I can locate the right experts on agriculture and then do a report. Since I'm located in Boulder I'm literally surrounded by them. I am assembling a list of document resources under the Climate Change tab on top of this blog which also provides daily news links on the subject of climate change and agriculture.

My personal view at this point is that we may have some greater challenges facing agriculture which may hit sooner on the horizon's timeline
than climate change. I see the climate change and weather issue as being extremely multi-factoral and complex so I've hesitated to make predictions at this point but am watching closely for reports in the news like I've been doing and I will continue to do so. We can be sure there will be surprises. Previous posts on the subject are below:
  1. Weather Trends: Iowa and Central/Northern California Wetter (Jan 26 2011)
  2. Agriculture and Climate Change (Dec 16 2010)
  3. The Midwest's Productive Cropland is Expanding Due to Climate Change (Oct 8 2010)
  4. NRDC's Hot Summer Night's Map 2010 (Sep 20 2010)
Sorry, Paul. You know how women always have to have the final word on everything....
---Kalpa

3 comments:

  1. There is no, repeat no, food shortage on the planet today. Sort of… Using the United Nations suggested daily calorie intake there is more than sufficient foodstuffs produced annually, globally. Period. Now then, the question is how you use them....for example, if you wanted to bring the daily calorie level in both China and India up to the U.N. level it would take an additional, not total but additional, 31 million tons of foodstuffs. To put that in perspective the U. S. ethanol fraud consumed 165 million tons of corn during 2010. China has 2.3 trillion dollars in Treasuries but chooses not to expend it on foodstuffs for its own population. India was a net exporter of wheat in 2010.....I had the opportunity to have dinner with the Chairman of one of the largest commodity/food processors in the world over the holidays....there is no food shortage...and the American ethanol scam has absolutely destroyed relationships with food importers from the U.S. , like Egypt for example, that took decades to develop....and now for some Physics: if ethanol were in fact a "sum positive" they would use ethanol as the energy source to produce (boil/distill) more ethanol/corn mash.....and they, the ethanol producers, don't......because it consumes more energy to make a gallon than you get out of it (referred to as the “thermal load factor”)....It’s nothing like an oil refinery that uses part of the barrel of crude oil to power the refinery. For that matter the caloric content of corn ethanol is only 1/8 of cane sugar ethanol but of course the import duties prevent any importation of cane ethanol. When the economics don’t add up, when the environmental advantages don’t exist then of course it becomes an issue of national security.

    Every ethanol “factory” pipes in natural gas to boil their corn mash. The vast majority of farmers spike in anhydrous ammonia fertilizer (to gain the nitrogen nutrient) which of course is made from…..natural gas. The environmentalists who pushed for the ethanol program to begin with have absolutely washed their hands of it. If you make an exhaustive check of the EPA’s own information websites there is no place where they are counting either the fertilizer or boil heat source gases in their carbon foot print calculation. Worse, the additional acreage added for corn production in the last 5 years has come from, in part, taking “CRP”-conservation reserve program-out of the program. Basically the federal government spent billions to set this less desirable farm land aside and now watches as their investment literally disappears. Oddly, the little production on this type of poor farmland that is gained is guaranteed by ….federally subsidized crop insurance. Amusingly it takes about 7 gallons of fresh water to make 1 gallon of ethanol at the factory with this water normally coming from a water treatment plant, well or pipeline paid for by a “Rural Development Grant” from the U.S.Dept. of Agriculture. Actually it makes the E.P.A. requirement of 1 ½ gallons per flush on new toilets seem even more hilarious.

    Just think- 40% of the American corn crop now goes for the 10% gasoline EPA mandated blend rate yet the EPA is pushing to raise the blend rate to 15%--or 60% of Americas corn crop. As an aside 80% of the canola crop, a premium cooking oil, is used for bio-fuels in Germany. Double the price of corn and bull doze another million acres of Amazon jungle to plant; triple the price of tortillas and watch the Mexicans pour north across the border. Noted: Chuck Grassley, the erstwhile Republican Senator, is the mouthpiece for the ethanol scam. He farms 4,120 acres of Iowa corn ground. My source tells me that without the ethanol scam (and it was renewed for only 1 year…) the price of wheat goes to $4.35 and corn to $3.85.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is no, repeat no, food shortage on the planet today. Sort of… Using the United Nations suggested daily calorie intake there is more than sufficient foodstuffs produced annually, globally. Period. Now then, the question is how you use them....for example, if you wanted to bring the daily calorie level in both China and India up to the U.N. level it would take an additional, not total but additional, 31 million tons of foodstuffs. To put that in perspective the U. S. ethanol fraud consumed 165 million tons of corn during 2010. China has 2.3 trillion dollars in Treasuries but chooses not to expend it on foodstuffs for its own population. India was a net exporter of wheat in 2010.....I had the opportunity to have dinner with the Chairman of one of the largest commodity/food processors in the world over the holidays....there is no food shortage...and the American ethanol scam has absolutely destroyed relationships with food importers from the U.S. , like Egypt for example, that took decades to develop....and now for some Physics: if ethanol were in fact a "sum positive" they would use ethanol as the energy source to produce (boil/distill) more ethanol/corn mash.....and they, the ethanol producers, don't......because it consumes more energy to make a gallon than you get out of it (referred to as the “thermal load factor”)....It’s nothing like an oil refinery that uses part of the barrel of crude oil to power the refinery. For that matter the caloric content of corn ethanol is only 1/8 of cane sugar ethanol but of course the import duties prevent any importation of cane ethanol. When the economics don’t add up, when the environmental advantages don’t exist then of course it becomes an issue of national security.

    Every ethanol “factory” pipes in natural gas to boil their corn mash. The vast majority of farmers spike in anhydrous ammonia fertilizer (to gain the nitrogen nutrient) which of course is made from…..natural gas. The environmentalists who pushed for the ethanol program to begin with have absolutely washed their hands of it. If you make an exhaustive check of the EPA’s own information websites there is no place where they are counting either the fertilizer or boil heat source gases in their carbon foot print calculation. Worse, the additional acreage added for corn production in the last 5 years has come from, in part, taking “CRP”-conservation reserve program-out of the program. Basically the federal government spent billions to set this less desirable farm land aside and now watches as their investment literally disappears. Oddly, the little production on this type of poor farmland that is gained is guaranteed by ….federally subsidized crop insurance. Amusingly it takes about 7 gallons of fresh water to make 1 gallon of ethanol at the factory with this water normally coming from a water treatment plant, well or pipeline paid for by a “Rural Development Grant” from the U.S.Dept. of Agriculture. Actually it makes the E.P.A. requirement of 1 ½ gallons per flush on new toilets seem even more hilarious.

    Just think- 40% of the American corn crop now goes for the 10% gasoline EPA mandated blend rate yet the EPA is pushing to raise the blend rate to 15%--or 60% of Americas corn crop. As an aside 80% of the canola crop, a premium cooking oil, is used for bio-fuels in Germany. Double the price of corn and bull doze another million acres of Amazon jungle to plant; triple the price of tortillas and watch the Mexicans pour north across the border. Noted: Chuck Grassley, the erstwhile Republican Senator, is the mouthpiece for the ethanol scam. He farms 4,120 acres of Iowa corn ground. My source tells me that without the ethanol scam (and it was renewed for only 1 year…) the price of wheat goes to $4.35 and corn to $3.85.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anon
    Thanks for your informative and valuable comment. This blogger is well aware of the abundance of global food produced. See The World Could Feed 14 Billion People and more recently Countering the Prevailing Myth that "The World is Running Out of Food".

    I've been wishing I'd have time to do a post on burning coal to make ethanol but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Some things are hidden and spun pretty well for the public when it comes to the ethanol story. I hope you comment here more often....

    ReplyDelete