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