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Upcoming Global Food Experiment in Agriculture

The pandemic has changed a lot of things, but one thing Americans continue to enjoy is one of the world’s most abundant and safe food supplies. While prices fluctuate, and in some cases, skyrocket, the United States has seen food prices remain relatively stable in retail markets. In 2020, American consumers spent an average of 8.6 percent of their disposable personal income on food. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the sharpest annual decline in the share of disposable income spent on total food since USDA began tracking these expenditures. In part, this decline was the result of the largest annual increase in disposable personal income since 2000 and the sharpest decrease in food-away-from-home spending.

To keep up with growing demand and a growing population, agricultural production of the globe’s four primary crops, corn, rice, wheat, and sugar can, has increased by approximately 50% since the early 2000s. New technology, crop-protection tools, genetically modified crops, and regenerative soil initiatives have helped American farmers meet these production needs. One vital tool that has been utilized for decades, but is commonly forgotten, is nitrogen fertilizer. The developed world has enjoyed easy access to nitrogen for many decades, but that’s about to change.

While food prices have remained stable, agricultural fertilizer prices have most certainly not. Anhydrous ammonia is averaging $1,412.88 per ton and urea around $889 per ton with the likely possibility of continued increases as we continue into the spring season. 2022 will mark the first year in most active farmer’s careers that they will be reducing their reliance on fertilizer. The risk of a reduced harvest has the potential to impact the global food supply. Less money means less product and less fertilizer means lesser food production, almost any farmer would say so.

The demand for food is rising with every infant born and the population requires year-on-year record harvests to continue feeding the world as farmers have always done. See the issue here? This experiment farmers are unwillingly conducting has almost a certain outcome ahead. Even with opportunities to make up for the less than favorable conditions this economic environment will provide to our agricultural one, crops will likely face declines in yield. Farmers will presumably try to take advantage of precision techniques and various cropping approaches to encourage maximum yield potentials, which could prove to be positive for non-traditional and conservation-minded farming practices in the future. However, the end result of a lesser yield for a growing population remains.

The process and results of this high-stakes experiment are undeniably impending and will be experienced worldwide. Preparing for the worst is more important now than ever, because if we fail to prepare now, everyone will lose out on more than nitrogen prices or yields. Everyone in the food supply chain from farmers to each person with a dinner plate and especially those with low incomes who depend on the abundant food supply more than anyone else will be forced to make choices that will lessen their quality of life. A difficult year lies ahead, but famed agriculturist Benjamin Franklin’s words still hold true, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

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