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2025 Famine Potential in the United States
February 3, 2024
by William P. Meyers

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25%, or One in Four

2023 looked like a bad year for food, and it was in nations like Somalia and Afghanistan. Several nations had harvests that were far lower than average for one or more important crops: Argentina, Italy, Spain, France. Some states, or more localized areas, in the USA had crop failures. However, in the end, our farmers harvested enough to ensure that we will not have a famine in 2024 (barring distribution problems). India banned the export of certain types of rice, and the price of buying boatloads of grain remained high, but the people of earth muddled through, except in a few poor nations or remote regions.

But what about 2025? I believe the chances of a famine in the U.S. in 2025 are about the same as I predicted for 2024. Most of the world's food is grown north of the equator, but there will be harvests, or not, in the southern hemisphere starting in February, for instance in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and in much of Africa. Those harvests will give us an indicator of what is to come, but failure or success in one part of the world does not act as a very good indictor of farm conditions thousands of miles away. We do already know that Catalonia is facing its worst drought in memory, and therefore likely its worst harvest, unless rains return in the interim. That might be a bad indicator for harvests in the southern tier of Europe.

We also know the most productive U.S. state, Iowa, is in a major drought:

U.S. Drought Monitor

Planting in Iowa will begin in spring, and with good luck rain will ease the drought before then. In all the 2023 harvest in Iowa was fair, despite the drought, partly because it did rain at critical times. An area can suffer some drought but still produce crops if there is irrigation from ground water.

Without discounting the effects of drought, it is heat domes that are most dangerous for U.S. crops. I would generalize that to the world. A heat dome can ruin a crop even when adequate water is available. But even with heat domes much has to do with timing, and specific crops. With corn, which generally likes warmth, there are three windows when a crop can be harmed by excessive heat. One is when the plants have sprouted and are very young and tender. If this occurs early enough, the crop can be replanted. A second window is when plants are pollinating each other. The third window is during the final fill stage, when the kernels of corn are swelling within the ears. Other crops may have differing windows.

While drought and heat are the main dangers, several other factors may severely impact crops. A late cold spell is a classic, especially for fruit trees. Excessive rain can ruin crops, in part because too much moisture can accelerate disease. There are lots of diseases, some of which are harder to control with pesticides than others, and all of which tend to become resistant to pesticides over time. There are insects, including my new (to the U.S.) enemy, Halymorpha halys. In olden days rodents were a major problem. It is best not to underestimate what a horde of Slow Motion Apocalypse rodents could do to our food supply. Usually wind acts on a smaller scale, but you cannot count it out as a cause of crop failure. Finally, there are unknown unknowns, the dreaded Black Swans. For instance, what if a large percentage of farmers die or are too sick to work, so the planting or care taking or harvest. Or failure of the fertilizer production and distribution system.

So when I say there is a 25% chance, or 1 in 4 chance, of famine in the United States of America, it is not a statistically-based prediction. It is not just that there are too many variables, it is that the variables themselves are changing too rapidly. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to climb, and with it the heating of the earth. While over a period of years the trend upward is somewhat predictable, there are many positive and negative feedback factors in global warming, so both the global average and weather in specific regions are just guesswork when looking to 2024 or 2025. How insects, fungus, bacteria, and plant viruses react to the warming or specific weather, much less to old and new pesticides, is hard to predict. We also have new varieties of crops introduced, but we have no long term experience with them. They may be extra dependent on a fertilizer or insecticide that could have its supply disrupted.

25% is good for planning purposes. We should all be careful not to waste food, and we should keep a reasonable amount handy at all times. Always have some savings that can be used for last minute hoarding it looks like a major crop failure.

Let me emphasize: the main danger is a (or multiple) heat dome formation over the midwest grain growing region, centered in Iowa, lasting for more than a few days, and particularly if it occurs done one of the critical windows that affect harvest yields. Heat domes elsewhere are not good, but not likely to bring us into famine territory. The destruction of California's crops one year would mean less fruit, vegetables, and nuts, but not a famine. Same for peanuts and peaches in Georgia.

The Chinese Communist Party, for all its faults, understands the danger of famine. That is why they keep buying any surplus grain (or soybeans) they can get. Do not plan on the U.S. government or your state of local government feeding you when there are serious food shortages. We have no plan. Food is mostly stored by commercial organizations. We have very little year-to-year carryover (the USDA publishes figures each year). With a total soy/corn/wheat crop failure in the fall of 2024, we would be hungry by January 2025. Total multiple crop failures are unlikely. A reasonable famine scenario is that prices start going up in supermarkets (and restaurants) in the late winter or spring of 2025. How rough it will get depends on the severity of the crop failure. With any luck, crops will be fine in 2024, and I can write about the same prediction in early 2025.

See my Slow Motion Apocalypse page for links to much of the data affecting crops.

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