This is a USDA PDF file from here:
Since it ships as a PDF, it’s not easy to just pull out an image. It also constantly updates over time. So, OK, I saved a copy today and I’ll grab screenshots of the bits I want to talk about. For better image quality check the original (at least until it changes again).
So I’ve used ‘scrot’ to do screen shots then GIMP to chop out the graphs and make them into png files. Next we’ll look at the crops in no particular order (i.e. not the alphabetical in the original, but more the order that I think has the most information up front).
First up, I’m going to show Barley and Oats. Why? Well, not because we eat a lot of them, but more so that you can see just how short a season they need. They are grown in “high cold places” with short seasons for just that reason.
Barley & Oats
Notice the green “growing season” block runs from June to 3 weeks into August. That’s short. Similarly Oats below, run from last week of May into the start of August. As soon as the ice melts, oats germinate. About the freezing point is all they need.
So the first big takeaway from these graphs is that we CAN grow something to eat with a growing season that is only the center of summer and with a cold start. So Don’t Panic! There might be “issues” getting enough High Fructose Corn Syrup to properly rot your teeth from excess soft drinks, but you can still have oats for breakfast and barley soup for lunch. The only wild card being how fast do farmers convert from what they’ve grown for 30 years to what they can grow in the next decades.
Now note the red line for 2019 is a nice harvest and it is already completed.
So where do we grow Barley?
For both, it is largely colder northern places, but do note some is grown in Texas and California. I’d suspect some of that is for seed production away from the general crop areas to prevent varieties crossing, but it just might be someone who really likes those grains. The point being that you CAN grow these cold area crops in warmer areas, and often even in winter instead of being limited to summer crops.
IF things got really bad, we would easily do things like grow more oats and barley “off season” from the usual summer rice in Texas and California. Wind and precipitation being the biggest risks to that strategy. So embrace your inner Scot and pour a bowl of oats!
So much for the good news…
Corn & Soybeans
When I was a child it was thought “risky” to plant a lot of corn north of about the middle of Indiana. Yeah, folks did it, but colder crops were given the edge. As we warmed out of the cold ’70s, the “line of corn” started to march north. Eventually even into the Dakotas and Canada. This was a Very Big Deal and I remember my Dad, from Iowa and corn farming himself, remarking on it being unusual to have corn that far north.
Now, as the Grand Solar Minimum unfolds and our recent Solar Maximum becomes just a fond memory of warmth, the Line Of Corn will need to march south again. Unknown is how many family farms with Grandad’s Stories of growing Barley and Oats instead of corn due to the cold are still remaining…
I grew up in a farm town, and the local Farmers would have breakfast and coffee in our restaurant. As I washed cups and saucers on the other side of the counter, I got to listen to them talking. Farmers have a very long memory for weather and the long duration weather cycles we call “climate”. They also say things like “Sure glad I had that 20 acres of Barley this year, the corn was a bust.” So even just ONE farmer with the old wisdom can get the whole town thinking, and changing. To the extent it is mostly Factory Farms with guys in suits in the city collecting crop insurance checks, well, that’s not going to feed anyone.
So Factory Food wants CORN and SOY and not a lot else. Yeah, some of the other grains end up in feeds, but not much in comparison. Dad fed vealers for 2 weeks on special ordered bags of rolled oats with molasses on them. Then into the freezer. That’s a special beef you will never forget, but you pretty much must grow your own. Not at all like veal, yet not the same as regular old beef either.
But now most of the food in the store is corn / soy fed beef, pork, chickens and “Purina Fish Chow” farmed fish. Then the packaged People Chow is full of soy proteins, soy oil, corn oil, corn in a bewildering variety of forms, and of course tons of High Fructose Corn Syrup. So what happens to corn and soy happens to most of your food supplies.
From: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Crops_County/ for all the images of plantings:
You can pretty much see that all the Midwest, down the Mississippi, and parts of The South are corn and soybeans. That’s the big deal.
So how’s that crop doing? First off, notice how LONG that green growing season is, and how far into fall it runs. These are not fast crops. We’ve gotten much greater yields per acre than in the past, partly by developing slow corn that keeps growing longer and turning more sun into sugar. It will be important for farmers to start moving toward faster varieties again, even if the nominal yield is a bit lower. 100% of 90% is better than 0% of 110%…
Now look at those red 2019 quality lines. The crop is crappy. Only about 1/2 of is good or better. Though not covered in this article, yields are down, where they have harvested, and a lot will not be harvested. Notice that harvested line on the right is well below the dotted last year status, and for corn about 50% / soybeans 70%. It has already frost killed and snow buried a lot of the stuff not yet harvested… You can also see at the far left that the crop went in later than last year and developed later, also not good.
To say this is a “bad thing” is grossly understating it. This isn’t going to just impact canned corn, but pretty much every meat source (other than grazed cattle, lamb, and wild fish) along with most processed foods (i.e. even the ketchup and sodas use corn sugar).
While yes, in the long run we can plant oats, barley, buckwheat and more in those areas instead of corn, in the short run we have to eat and THE biggest supply to our food system is taking a 50% hit. (As a mix of quality, quantity, etc.) Then in the medium term you can’t harvest oats with a corn picker. It takes time to tool up for different crops, and for the local grain merchants to set up to buy them. Change will happen first at the edges of places that already grow alternative crops, but likely not until the 3rd year of this.
I’m not going to put up maps for the rest. If you want to see them, hit the link just above. Substantially sugar beets are near barley; and sorghum, sugar cane, tobacco & cotton along with peanuts are down south. Rice is along the southern Mississippi, coastal Texas and a spot in California that’s my home turf. Wheat is a mixed bag of Spring Wheat up north from Eastern Washington State, Idaho, Montana and into North Dakota, while winter wheat is more in the west and scattered around really. Probably better to just show the map for it:
So here’s the current state of the harvest for some of those other things:
Spring Wheat fast and harvested well. So you will have your toast after all ;-)
Winter wheat did well too. Note that due to the very late / failed harvest this year, many places that had a good winter wheat crop last harvest could not plant it for this winter. You can’t double crop and get your winter wheat in, when the corn and soybeans are still standing and then get 2 foot of snow over them. So next year winter wheat is likely to “have issues” at harvest as it wasn’t planted as much this fall. Notice that the green growing band for Winter Wheat starts in end of October… when we still had standing corn in fields.
Related to wheat (as in spread on it), we have peanuts.
Peanuts, being only really grown in a small warm corner of the South, did fine. So PB on Toast; not so much bacon and eggs… that depend on corn and soy meal. It does look like quality has taken a hit, likely from the wet warmth during the season promoting fungi and molds.
Rice has done well. No real surprise there as it is only grown where it’s warm. So forget the Corn Pops and plan on Rice Checks for breakfast…
Then these last two kind of surprise me. Seems Sunflower is mostly grown in the Dakotas (though I’ve seen it here in California, but I guess not enough to really matter). So Sunflower Oil is not going to get us out of the Soybean and Corn oil holes. Only 30% harvested and they’ve got snow cover. Glad I put a couple of gallons of Olive Oil in the stock room ;-)
Then sugar beets are now mostly across the northern states too. California has had sugar beets at least into the ’80s that I know of, but perhaps C&H (California and Hawaii) now sources sugar from elsewhere… So the sugar beet harvest is lagging, but they are sturdy enough to probably not care if harvested frozen.
There’s other crops at the link, but this is already long and covers all the Big Ones.
To me, I’m not seeing a Food Crisis just yet, but there will be higher prices and there will be shortages of some things that depend on low cost plentiful corn and soy feeds. Expect your chicken, egg, bacon and pork prices to rise most. (But from a very low starting point).
There will be plenty of wheat for PB&J sandwiches and toast / pancakes, along with lots of rice instead of that corn casserole. So substitutions are available.
The biggest strain is likely to come in Packaged Processed Foods. Those folks are over the top committed to corn and soy oils, proteins, and syrups. I’m not that worried as I basically don’t eat processed foods (well, unless you consider coffee & Scotch processed ;-) preferring to mostly cook my own from “scratch”.
So for this coming year, changes in what you pay and some of what you have to eat, but not a disaster. Yet.
OTOH, with a very hungry China looking to buy in all the pork and corn / soy it can get, things are going to be very tight for corn and soy on a global basis, and the African Swine Flu will make pork an occasional thing for much of the world for a good long time.
FWIW, I have an Australian Leg-O-lamb in the fridge to cook tomorrow and we have had lamb chops 2 out of 4 days this week. Grazers are not affected by the shortage of feed grains ;-) Besides, Australian Lamb is just wonderfully flavored…