This is a weird claim. Unproven. Unfounded. Alarmist. Wrong.
Meant to imply climate change is there with one drought summer in Europe already lead to rising food prices and hunger?
Global supplies of major cereals have exceeded total consumption in recent years, leading to a significant build-up of inventories and much lower prices in international markets as compared to the previous decade. However, world production of cereals is expected to decrease for the second consecutive year in the 2018 marketing year, due to smaller harvests of wheat and other coarse grains. Wheat and barley output decreased largely due to bad weather conditions in the European Union, the Russian Federation, and Australia. In contrast, the maize harvest is expected to be larger given the favourable growing conditions in Ukraine, Brazil, and Argentina. Rice output is also expected to be higher in 2018 owing to continued growth in Asia and a production recovery in the United States. Due to a decrease in the level of production and sustained growth in demand, short-term global cereal stocks are expected to fall for the first time in six years, resulting in modest gains in prices. Overall, trade in cereals is expected to increase as higher shipments of maize will likely offset lower shipments of wheat, rice and other coarse grains from some major exporting countries.
– OECD‐FAO Agricultural Outlook 2019‐2028
Given the expectations of a strong rebound in world wheat production and a less buoyant growth in overall demand, global wheat markets should remain adequately supplied in 2019/20, with inventories rising – especially among the major exporters – and prices expected to remain under pressure.
– FAO Food Outlook Biannual Report on Global Food Markets, May 2019
What exactly is "demand" for grains? How is that measured if people and livestock can also eat other stuff but wheat and maize? How much of this 'demand' is for putting grain into car tanks as aggro-fuel? The claim plays with the allusion of impending hunger. On that scale there seems to be some room left.
This claim is highly misleading for 2018, as obviously the world had more than enough grains for feeding people, livestock, distilleries, making car fuels, plastics…
an estimated one third of all food produced is being lost or wasted along the food supply chain – from production to consumption. (PDF)
– FAO: "SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction"
Yields vary with the weather, locally and globally. Climate change will distort that systemically, over time. Taking one bad year after many record yielding years, after continued growth even before them is as inappropriate as using all 'demand' to play with gloom when food is wasted by mismanagement, mis-distribution, and cars. There was more than enough produced to feed everyone on the planet. Hunger is still not an absolute natural restriction but a problem of organisation. In short: justice, equality, poverty and distribution.
Cereals, especially corn and wheat, are feedstocks to produce biofuels (e.g., ethanol). However, they are mainly used as food and feed. This chapter describes the global developments of cereal markets, especially wheat, corn and barley with a special focus on major countries. Wheat is mainly used as food. […] The corn market grew strongly in the last 15 years. The United States is the largest corn producer, consumer and exporter. The barley market, dominated by the European Union, is stagnating. However, exports have increased in the last years. Biofuel policies have increased the demand for corn, especially in the United States, as well as for wheat, especially in the European Union.
The variability of production in regions is high and depends mainly on weather conditions. While one region might experience good weather conditions and so a good harvest, another region might experience bad weather conditions leading to a bad or devastating harvest. On the one hand, globally bad harvests over several years lead to a depletion in stocks and hence a rise in prices as has happened most prominently in 2007/2008 after the harvests of 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 were low and the harvest in 2007/2008 was expected to be low as well.
On the other hand, good global harvests over several years, as experienced between 2013/2014 and 2015/2016, lead to an accumulation of stocks and hence decreasing prices. This relationship holds for future developments and prices will stay volatile.
Even though the cereal markets are strongly interlinked and dependent on each other […] The most rapidly growing players on the export side are Russia and Ukraine which export nearly all of their additional production, which is expected to increase further.
The barley market has not seen an increase in production, which is likely to continue. Its production is concentrated in regions where corn production is not profitable due to the climate conditions.
In the past 15 years, total global cereal production increased by 33% to 2,454 million t1 in the marketing year 2015/20162 including corn, wheat, rice (milled), barley, sorghum, millet, oats, mixed grains and rye (sorted in descend- ing order according to production levels in 2015/2016). The main part of this growth comes from an increase in average yields by 29% between 2000/2001 and 2015/2016, while area only expanded by 6% in the same period. Annual changes in yields depend to a large extent on the weather conditions during the growing season. As the weather varies greatly between the years so do the yields and hence production. Consumption of cereals followed a general upward trend without much uctuation, 30% from 2000/2001 to 2015/2016. Global trade in cereals increased between 2000/2001 and 2015/2016 by around 70%. Currently, 16% of total cereal production is traded on global markets.
The use of cereals as feedstock for ethanol production has strongly increased in the last 15 years. Nevertheless, the use of cereals for ethanol production is only 6% of total global consumption in 2015/2016. Currently, corn and wheat are the main cereals used to produce ethanol. In the European Union, rye and barley are also used to a small extent.
– Verena Wolf et al.: "World Markets for Cereal Crops. Global Trends for Production, Consumption, Trade and Prices", in: Martin Kaltschmitt & Ulf Neuling Editors (eds): "Biokerosene. Status and Prospects", Springer: Berlin, 2017.
In 2018 the local situations were not good in Europe:
Germany, which is the EU's number two grain producer after France, is expecting a 20 percent slump in its harvest.
– Mark Armstrong: "Warnings of food prices increases due to European drought", euronews, 02/08/2018.
An impact on the global market situation is to be expected. Being only a global problem if other regions were similarly hit and supply and demand would diverge significantly. Variations over the years are natural and since 'we' know this, reserves are there to buffer a bit of these variations.
The local variation within Europe alone
– Valeria D'agostino: "Drought In Europe Summer 2018: Crisis Management In An Orderly Chaos", Farm Europe, 02/10/2018.
At the time the local conditions were described as a bit bleak sided:
The 2018 drought is turning out to be one of the most serious long-term weather effects for more than 25 years and many are already comparing it with 1976.
– Katy Askew: "Drought in Europe: Food production hit by adverse weather as EC details support measures", Food Navigator, Aug 2018.
But is a drought in Europe really so extraordinary in the first place? It looks to be very plausible. And it is also not true.
throughout history, northern Europe has tended to get wetter and southern Europe to get drier during warmer periods. They also observe that recent changes in drought patterns are not unprecedented as yet and emphasizing that continuing to improve understanding of the relationship between summer heat and drought is critical to projecting flood and drought risks.
This comparison revealed that the climate model simulations show a too strong relationship between warm and dry summers, and do not capture that a large part of Europe has received more precipitation, not less, when it has been warm in the past 12 centuries.
– Twelve centuries of European summer droughts, Phys.org, 2019.
What if these recent droughts are not as extreme as previously thought? Using reconstructed droughts over the last 250 years, we show that although the 2003 and 2015 droughts may be regarded as the most extreme droughts driven by precipitation deficits during the vegetation period, their spatial extent and severity at a long-term European scale are less uncommon.
– Martin Hanel et al.: "Revisiting the recent European droughts from a long-term perspective", Scientific Reports vol 8, Article No: 9499, 2018.
Interesting here: 2015 was one of worst droughts ever. And that the global cereal yield in 2015 hit an all-time record high.
If the claim is measured on its global scale:
2018 "Germany registers record low rainfall" making it the fourth driest growing season since records began, 2018 Is Now The Wettest Year On Record For Washington And Other Cities… 2018 was the U.S.'s third-wettest year on record—here's why
Europe is still below the theoretical optimum for land utilisation of cereal crops and likely (or at least able to) to improve future yields:
Europe accounts for around 20% of the global cereal production and is a net exporter of ca. 15% of that production. Increasing global demand for cereals justifies questions as to where and by how much Europe’s production can be increased to meet future global market demands, and how much additional nitrogen (N) crops would require. The latter is important as environmental concern and legislation are equally important as production aims in Europe. Here, we used a country-by-country, bottom-up approach to establish statistical estimates of actual grain yield, and compare these to modelled estimates of potential yields for either irrigated or rainfed conditions. In this way, we identified the yield gaps and the opportunities for increased cereal production for wheat, barley and maize, which represent 90% of the cereals grown in Europe. The combined mean annual yield gap of wheat, barley, maize was 239 Mt, or 42% of the yield potential. The national yield gaps ranged between 10 and 70%, with small gaps in many north-western European countries, and large gaps in eastern and south-western Europe. Yield gaps for rainfed and irrigated maize were consistently lower than those of wheat and barley. If the yield gaps of maize, wheat and barley would be reduced from 42% to 20% of potential yields, this would increase annual cereal production by 128 Mt (39%).
– Rene Schils: "Cereal yield gaps across Europe", European Journal of Agronomy, Volume 101, November 2018, p109–120.
The above report highlights also that the claim presenting the 2018 summer drought as the ultimate bane of agricultural food production is an oversimplification. Any change in climate will affect selection of plant species, planting patterns and fertiliser utilisation.
This selection is not a natural law. If EU farmers are subsidised for planting aggro-fuel maize monocultures and compensated for losses if 'guaranteed' prices aren't met, droughts or floods or pests or erosion reduce yields, despite a knowable limitation on usefulness or suitability of maize for a particular plot of land?
Then policy and decision making are much more to blame for outcomes than solely variations in precipitation.
In the Mediterranean countries, barley generally had higher yields than wheat, because of the presence of durum wheat in these regions, which generally yields less than common wheat and because barley is harvested earlier and is thus less affected by summer drought.
Fertiliser use can't be the sole factor. It wasn't in 2018. Water is another factor, but it also is not about year to year variation or climate change for that matter. Large parts of Europe were affected not by drought alone, but also by conservative wastefulness in inflexible and sometimes outright unsuitable practices across the board. Maize monoculture for aggro-fuel is just one example of programmed waste:
However, of the 3 billion Mg food grains produced globally, ∼30% are wasted through postharvest losses in developing countries and an inefficient supply chain system in developed nations. Rather than increasing the area under production, an appropriate strategy is to reduce food waste and enhance productivity of drylands through adoption of an efficient irrigation system or use of conservation agriculture based on no-till, residue mulch, cover cropping, and integrated nutrient management. Grain yield (GY) is affected by the product of four factors: evapotranspiration (ET), transpiration: ET ratio (T/ET), 1/TR, and the harvest index (HI) [GY = ET × 1/TR × HI]. TR or transpiration ratio is the kg of water required to produce 1 kg of the aboveground biomass. The most impact determinant of GY is ET. Thus, conserving water in the root zone is essential to improving agronomic productivity of dryland agriculture. By narrowing the yield gap and conserving water in the root zone, it is technically feasible to produce the cereals needed to meet the global demand by the year 2100 on 0.5 billion ha of cropland. However, the importance of judicious governance for translating science of water management into action cannot be overemphasized. After all, it's all about water. Its judicious management is critical to enhance ET, improve GY, and advance food and nutritional security.
– B.A. Stewart & Rattan Lal: "Chapter One - Increasing World Average Yields of Cereal Crops: It's All About Water", Advances in Agronomy, Vol 151, 2018, p1–44.
Some cereals had a record year in 2017. Rice and maize not. Rice harvest was highest in 2018 after the previous all-time high was 2017!
In 2018 the EU announced this:
The report highlights that EU total cereal production for 2018 is expected to be at 284.3 mt, a decrease of 5% compared to 2017/18 and of 8% compared to the last five-year average. Wheat harvest has suffered the most from this summer’s dry conditions, leading to a decrease of 9% compared to 2017. The wheat production forecast is set at 129 mt for 2018.
– NEWS 3 October 2018 Brussels, Belgium – Agriculture and Rural Development "Drop in EU cereal harvest due to summer drought"
The claim infers from a bad year in Europe that the worldwide demand for grain could have not been met. But the FAO would have another word with the claim:
FAO’s latest forecast for global cereal production in 2018 has been raised by 3 million tonnes since the previous report in September, to 2 591 million tonnes; still 63 million tonnes (2.4 percent) below last year’s record high.
World wheat production in 2018 is forecast at 722.4 million tonnes, nearly unchanged from the previous month and representing the lowest level since 2013. Latest revisions mostly concern prospects in Australia and Canada, which are dampened on expectations of lower yields because of reduced rainfall, offsetting higher forecasts for Algeria and the Russian Federation.
World production of coarse grains in 2018 is forecast at 1 356 million tonnes, 2.2 million tonnes higher than last month’s expectations, but still 35.6 million tonnes (2.6 percent) below the 2017 output. The upward revision mostly stems from improved prospects for maize yields in the United States, where the output is expected to be the second highest on record. Production forecasts for coarse grains are also raised for Algeria, where favourable weather has boosted this year’s harvest. These increases more than outweigh downward revisions made for Serbia and the Russian Federation, where adverse weather has further lowered yield prospects for maize.
Global rice production in 2018 is anticipated to amount to 513 million tonnes, up 1.3 percent from the 2017 all-time high and 1.2 million tonnes above September’s forecast. The month-on-month upward adjustment follows evidence of greater Asian plantings than previously foreseen, particularly in India. Nonetheless, crop prospects have also improved for the United States and Guinea, while inclement weather or short water availabilities for irrigation dampened the outlook for Mali, Pakistan and the Philippines.
The forecast of world cereal utilization in 2018/19 stands at 2 647 million tonnes, almost unchanged from September and still up almost 30 million tonnes (1.1 percent) from the 2017/18 estimated level. Feed and industrial uses of maize make up the bulk of the anticipated increase in global cereal utilization. Feed use of maize in 2018/19 is projected at 624 million tonnes, an increase of almost 20 million tonnes (3.3 percent) on the previous season, although this is likely to be largely offset by expected reductions in the feed use of barley, sorghum and other coarse grains. The use of wheat for both feed and industrial ends is expected to decline slightly, while the direct human consumption of wheat is set to rise in line with population growth. As regards rice, greater food intake is envisaged to sustain a 1.1 percent expansion in global rice utilization in 2018/19 to 509 million tonnes, eclipsing anticipated declines in the feed and industrial uses of the commodity.
Global trade in cereals is expected to approach 417 million tonnes in the 2018/19 marketing season, up 3 million tonnes from last month’s forecast but still 4.1 million tonnes (1.0 percent) short of the 2017/18 record level. The upward revision since last month mainly reflects higher maize trade than was earlier anticipated, mostly on expectations of larger imports by several Asian countries and the EU. Global wheat trade in 2018/19 (July/June) is forecast to decline by 1.5 percent from the 2017/18 near-record level, largely on anticipated overall smaller purchases by Asia. Nonetheless, to meet the current foreseen import demand, wheat shipments from the United States are expected to increase sharply, offsetting lower export supplies in the Black Sea region and the EU. International trade in rice is forecast to subside by 1.3 percent in calendar year 2019, to total 48 million tonnes, with sales by Brazil, Pakistan and Thailand seen to be the most affected by the slight trade contraction.
World cereal stocks by the close of seasons in 2019 are now forecast at 751.3 million tonnes, 9.5 million tonnes (1.3 percent) up from the September forecast, but still down 57 million tonnes (7 percent) from their record high opening level. However, despite this month’s increase, the stocks-to-use ratio of cereals in 2018/19 could decline to 27.7 percent, the lowest level since 2013/14, but still well above the historical low of 20 percent registered in 2007/08. Global wheat stocks (ending in 2019) are forecast to total 255.5 million tonnes, up slightly from last month but almost 18 million tonnes (6.4 percent) below their record opening level. The sharp decrease from the previous season largely reflects expected significant drawdowns in the EU (by 7.5 million tonnes), the Russian Federation (by 5.9 million tonnes) and the United States (by 4.5 million tonnes). Overall, the global wheat stocks-to-use ratio will likely drop to 33.7 percent from 36.9 percent in 2017/18. The forecast of world coarse grain inventories (ending in 2019) has also been raised this month, by 3.3 million tonnes (1 percent), to nearly 320 million tonnes. Much higher maize inventories foreseen in the United States, following the near-record crop expected this year, account for the bulk of the revision. Despite the latest upward adjustment, coarse grain stocks will still likely remain below their opening levels, by as much as 44 million tonnes (12.1 percent). Global rice stocks at the close of 2018/19 are pegged at 177 million tonnes, up 2.6 percent from their opening levels and 3.1 million tonnes from the September forecast. India accounts for nearly all of this month’s upward stock adjustment for rice. This is consistent with the buoyant outlook for Indian production this season and expectations of continued sizeable state purchases from the local market.
– FAO FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief, Oct 2018.
This year's data is at:
FAO World Food Situation, "FAO Food Price Index—FAO Cereal Supply and Demand Brief", 2019
In a time series perspective:
year 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
prod/util 98.71% 98.35% 98.22% 101.18% 100.19%
After many warming years production was higher than utilisation and 2018 was an exception.
Why should production in every year exceed utilisation by a large margin? How long can grains be stored without spoiling?
Stock market traders would call that merely "a necessary correction between supply and demand"?
US, Canada, Ukraine and Russia harvests were not affected to that degree. What happened next in 2019?
Attention turned toward North America, where crop yields were ample and supplies plentiful.
Global stockpiles began to shrink. Buyers waited for the harvest in the main two breadbaskets that hadn’t been crippled by El Niño: the North American nations of the U.S. and Canada, and the Black Sea region of Russia and Ukraine.
Droughts had already curbed harvests around the Black Sea in 2018. That tightened domestic grain markets in Russia and Ukraine and heightened global anxiety over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold his wheat off the global market. He did, arguing that supplies were better used at home. Domestic bread prices immediately fell, while in the rest of the world they rose.
Trump praised Putin’s export ban during a summit in Washington, saying it showed how the Russian leader put his people first. By July, the Russian ban and shrinking harvests had pushed inflation-adjusted wheat prices above their 1974 peaks, reached during the Arab oil embargo.
– Agnieszka de Sousa: "The Pessimist’s Guide To 2019", Bloomberg, 2019.
Weather and climate affected local production numbers, but trade could offset this problem of distribution. Only that as ever dysfunctional policy intervened and made things almost as bad as in the 1970s.
The FAO defines
Utilization is defined as the sum of food use, feed and other uses.
– FAO: "Crop Prospects And Food Situation", Quarterly Global Report, July 2019.
That this slight global variation in crop yields isn't catastrophic and impending doom for food security is what the Global Food Security Index concludes:
The 2018 Global Food Security Index (GFSI) has recorded a slight improvement in global food security, after slipping in 2017.
Future prospects is forecast by FAO:
Maize prices, however, fell in 2017 pressured by high stocks. The low prices for all cereals registered during the base period (2015-2017) are likely to give way to higher prices in the near term supported by higher oilseed prices although the gain is expected to be limited because of continued large stocks and slower growth in food and feed demand compared to the previous decade. In the medium term, however, cereal prices are projected to increase in nominal terms, but to decline slightly in real terms.
Global cereal production is projected to expand by 13% between the base period and 2027, mainly owing to higher yields.
– OECD FAO Agricultural Outlook 2018-2027, 2018. (PDF)
Even a single drought summer in Europe in 2018 meant that the grain harvest this year no longer covers global demand (but there are still reserves).
The claim is a mere correlation used as proof for causation. This is short-circuited for both cases: 'Central European drought and global demand no longer met by supply'.
The chart in the FAO quote shows how extraordinarily record breaking increasing yields and increasing stocks were in the preceding years.
Focus on cereal production vs utilisation as reported by the FAO (production: 2 591 million tonnes vs utilisation of 2 647 million tonnes) looks as if to be true in the sense of '~102% of the harvest used'.
- But is it true; producers and sellers are interested in decreasing stocks and increasing prices?
- Is it true; >6% of the 102% used are just burnt away in motors or used for different things but feeding?
- Is it true; global stocks in 2018 were still >30% higher than in 2013?
Grains are not imperishable. Abundant growth that's not even fit to be burnt away in fuel tanks but still just produced to go to waste isn't a reasonable way to act. Supply should meet demand, not always exceed it by a large degree. That would be extraordinarily wasteful.
It looks more like being informed by a twisted capitalist ideology of unlimited growth.
No wonder that the author of this claim is a sympathiser for the right wing eso-racism group "Extinction Rebellion" (as mentioned in his original article). The whole piece for the claim is a justification for capitalist friendly ecological dictatorship grounded in arousing feelings of panic. Like XR and their doomsday cult the article as a whole and the claim in particular distort reality.
Claim writer: with positive referral to XR:
This is what we are talking about, and we cannot deal with the climate crisis with the mechanisms of reason, that have been practised, nor with the usual political means."/"fact that the phenomenon is so existential and unheard-of, and that the end of the world as we knew it necessarily seems unlikely—all the more because end-time predictions have always been wrong.
Utilisation ≠ food demand, in 2018 stocks & production remained high, stocks on even very high level, bad in part EU ≠ bad globally, waste from policy, practice and decision making not accounted for, droughts aren't new, previous EU droughts not that much correlated to global food production, estimated future yields likely improving by a lot. Climate change is a challenge, demand will increase further. But following any XR propaganda clouds the mind.
A 'saner than XR' outlook on data and projections:
– Hatfield et al.: "Agroclimatology and Wheat Production: Coping with Climate Change", Front. Plant Sci., 2018.
– Wei et al.: "Potential Influence of Climate Change on Grain Self‐Sufficiency at the Country Level Considering Adaptation Measures", Earth's Future, AGU, 2019.
– Elisabeth Vogel et al: "The effects of climate extremes on global agricultural yields", 2019 Environ. Res. Lett. 14 054010.
Change in potential average yields for corn, potatoes, rice, and wheat in 2050