Food Crisis or Bad Leaders?

To know if we have an approaching “Global Food Crisis” due to the war in Ukraine, or if it is just bad decisions by “leaders”, it is necessary to “run some numbers”. How much wheat is grown in Ukraine? What percentage of it is exported? How much of the “global diet” does that represent? How much alternative food grains are available for emergency use? Is anyone doing that / preparing for it?

So let’s look at some of this.

Wheat production:

Over 750 million metric tons of wheat were produced in 2017/18 worldwide. It’s also consumed more than any other grain in the world except for rice and provides 20% of the global population’s daily protein intake. The reason that wheat is such an important dietary staple across so many regions is due to its ability to be produced in many different types of soils and climates.

To help traders to learn more about this important global agricultural commodity, TFG has prepared this guide on everything you need to know about wheat.

The important numbers here are total wheat market size at 750 Million Tons and 20% of global protein. It’s that 20% that’s hard to “fix” if it is missing as wheat has a high protein content.

The Many Uses of Wheat

Unsurprisingly, the main demand for wheat comes from human consumption. In fact, over two-thirds of wheat produced globally is used as food. It contains many vitamins and minerals which make it a staple food product. It’s used in premium bread making, general purpose bread making, biscuit and cake making, and as animal feed.

Although foodstuffs represent the main use of wheat, it also has several alternative uses. The gluten and starch present in wheat make it elastic and able to bind water. This makes wheat useful for products like:

Paper – The starch from wheat is used to improve the strength of paper. The United States paper manufacturing industry uses over 5 billion pounds of starch every year.
Pharmaceuticals – Wheat gluten is used in the pharmaceuticals industry to create capsules
Adhesives – The adhesive on the back of postage stamps is created with wheat starch
Soaps – Wheat germ, which contains lots of vitamin E, is commonly used in soaps and creams.
Wheat is also used to produce bioethanol, but it plays a relatively small role in this compared to crops like corn.

OK… so maybe for a year or so we use less fancy paper, put corn starch in pills instead of wheat, and make adhesives out of something else… We’re talking roughly 30% of wheat used for these processes and for things like “bioethanol” to burn up in cars, when there’s a shortfall of about 3% of global wheat from the war in Ukraine.

Think maybe there’s a solution available here so people don’t have to starve to death in Egypt or Indonesia?

Note that now we are going to look at EXPORTS. This is just what leaves one country for another, not the amount consumed inside the country.

The 5 biggest wheat exporters (Russia, United States of America, Australia, Canada and Ukraine) provided about three-fifths (59.5%) of the overall value of international shipments for the nourishing cereal food.

From a continental perspective, European countries supplied half of worldwide wheat exports during 2021 with shipments amounting to $28 billion or 50.2% of total global sales. Home to two leading wheat-shipping neighbors (United States and Canada), North American exporters furnished 25.2% worth of wheat sold on international markets.

Oceania (mostly Australia) was responsible for 13% of wheat exports by value, ahead of Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean at 6.2%. Smaller percentages came from Asia (5.3%) and Africa (0.2%).

So, OK, both Russia and Ukraine are in the top 5 exporters. North America does 25% of exports, European countries (by which I presume they include Russia and Ukraine) at about 1/2. Australia picks up 13%. Nice going Australia!

Top 15 Wheat Exporters by Country
Below are the 15 countries that exported the highest dollar value worth of wheat during 2021.

Russia: US$7.3 billion (13.1% of total wheat exports)
United States: $7.29 billion (13.1%)
Australia: $7.2 billion (13%)
Canada: $6.6 billion (11.9%)
Ukraine: $4.7 billion (8.5%)
France: $4.6 billion (8.2%)
Argentina: $3 billion (5.3%)
Germany: $2 billion (3.6%)
Romania: $1.8 billion (3.3%)
India: $1.7 billion (3.1%)
Bulgaria: $1.4 billion (2.5%)
Kazakhstan: $1.1 billion (1.9%)
Poland: $994.3 million (1.8%)
Lithuania: $826.2 million (1.5%)
Hungary: $670.8 million (1.2%)
The listed 15 countries shipped 91.8% of globally exported wheat in 2021 by value.

This is by value, not by tons. But even here we can see that embargo of Russian Wheat is much bigger an impact than any Ukrainian crop failure. That’s a “leadership decision” not a crop failure…

Note, too, that crop production varies a LOT in any one country by year:

Among the top exporters, the fastest-growing wheat suppliers from 2020 to 2021 were: India (up 609%), Australia (up 167.2%), Bulgaria (up 96%), Romania (up 89.2%) and Argentina (up 46.5%).

Five countries posted declines in their annual exported wheat sales namely: Lithuania (down -9.3%), Russia (down -7.8%), Germany (down -5.8%), Kazakhstan (down -5%) and Poland (down -4.9%).

So there are certainly opportunities for other countries to “pick up the load” by planting some extra wheat, and the market is already geared for significant changes in output in any one country.

Where is the wheat going? I’ve bolded the first 1/2 dozen. These are the places where any shortage of wheat will be felt most. Couscous is a major dietary item in the Islamic world, for example:

Countries Posting Greatest Trade Deficits from the Global Wheat Trade
The following countries posted the highest negative net exports for wheat during 2021. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports. Thus, the statistics below present the deficit between the value of each country’s wheat import purchases and its exports for that same commodity.

Indonesia: -US$3.5 billion (net export deficit up 35.6% since 2020)
Nigeria: -$2.74 billion (up 33.4%)
China: -$2.72 billion (up 20.3%)
Turkey: -$2.6 billion (up 13.1%)
Egypt: -$2.5 billion (down -8.5%)
Algeria: -$2.3 billion (up 41.9%)

Italy: -$2.2 billion (up 10.4%)
Bangladesh: -$1.96 billion (up 52.1%)
Philippines: -$1.95 billion (up 24%)
Japan: -$1.8 billion (up 17.1%)
Morocco: -$1.6 billion (up 11.7%)
Brazil: -$1.4 billion (up 12.5%)
South Korea: -$1.35 billion (up 39%)
Vietnam: -$1.27 billion (up 59.3%)
Mexico: -$1.26 billion (up 26%)

Highly populated Indonesia, Nigeria and mainland China incurred the highest deficits in the international trade of wheat. In turn, this negative cashflow highlights the countries’ severe competitive disadvantages for this specific product category but also signals opportunities for wheat-supplying countries that help satisfy the powerful demand among each country’s consumers.

Those are the places to watch for any food shortage / high priced food riot effects. Watch for China to try buying up the global wheat supply…

Countries like Japan and Korea will likely substitute more rice, while Mexico will use more corn totillas and fewer flour.

But what is the size of exports in tons?

There numbers are for 2015/16 and as 1,000 metric tons.

6 Ukraine 15,800

So that year Ukraine exported 15,800,000 tons out of a global production of about 750,000,000 (yes, that’s a couple of years later, but close enough for ballpark estimates).

16/750 = 0.02133 or about 2% of global PRODUCTION.


24/750 = 0.032 or about 3% of global PRODUCTION.

Both together a bit over 5% of global wheat production. I’d wager that falls into the error band of annual global production given the numbers seen above as Yr/Yr variation by country.

On another page it was stated that Ukraine uses about 6,000,000 tons internally, so if NO crop is produced, they would want to import 6/750 = 0.008 or 0.8% of global production.

It is starting to look like the GLOBE can fairly easily handle the loss of Ukrainian grain, and any Bad Thing would be the result of allocation decisions, not gross production on a planetary basis.

6,000,000 tons is about 13,2 Billion pounds. A useful rule of thumb is that it takes about one dry pound of grains or beans to feed a person for a day (generous servings). That makes this about 36 Million persons fed for a year. Wiki lists the population as 41 million, so either they eat a LOT of wheat, or there’s lots of slack in the food system…

Wheat is grown on more land area than any other food crop (220.4 million hectares or 545 million acres, 2014). World trade in wheat is greater than for all other crops combined.

In 2020, world production of wheat was 761 million tonnes (1.7 trillion pounds), making it the second most-produced Cereal after maize. Since 1960, world production of wheat and other grain crops has tripled and is expected to grow further through the middle of the 21st century. Global demand for wheat is increasing due to the unique viscoelastic and adhesive properties of gluten proteins, which facilitate the production of processed foods, whose consumption is increasing as a result of the worldwide industrialization process and the westernization of the diet.

Gee… a lot of it goes into processed foods… and the “westernization of the diet”. Maybe, just maybe, we could eat a few percent of something else for a year or two and let the folks subsisting on couscous have our wheat?

I’m not going to give every grain and crop the same treatement. I think this has made the point that while Ukraine is a significant exporter of wheat, they are a very small part of total global production of wheat, and the percent at risk is in the annual variation of total crop yields.

I will just point out that in a comment on another thread I pointed out that most maize / corn is fed to animals. The USA, in one year, grows enough corn that were it used to feed people, it produces 7.5 YEARS worth of gross calories PER YEAR for everyone in the USA. It’s just that then we feed almost all of it to cows, pigs, chickens and our cars as “bioethanol”. Cows turn ten dry pounds of grain into one pound of wet steak. Pigs have a feed conversion efficiency of 3 : 1 as do chickens (more or less), while fish can reach 1 : 1 (no miracle there, they are cold blooded so don’t burn it up to stay warm, and remember that’s one DRY pound of grain to one WET pound of fish).

The bottom line here being that were we just to convert a minor percent of our diet from beef to pork, chicken and fish, maybe drop the ethanol percent in gasoline to 5% for a year, and then plant those acres to wheat instead of corn: There would be no shortage of what for people to eat at all.

Just saying… It’s a choice.

No, this does not mean I expect it to happen. I expect the farm lobby to get us using 15% ethanol in gas, folks will keep buying deluxe stationary, and the folks in Egypt to have food riots again.

What ought to happen is a graceful move to a less rich diet for ourselves and our cars so that the rest of the world can survive. That is not what will happen.

I’m also not addressing the “fertilizer crisis” in this posting either. It has very similar characteristics with some nations being big percentage of the EXPORT market, but with almost all production in most countries staying in the country. “Why” is pretty simple. It’s heavy and expensive to move the stuff. Better to mine / make it near point of use. So yeah, you might lose some from the export market, but there’s still a LOT made in the home market. It is more about cost of fuel and stupidly shutting off oil and gas than it is about ability to produce. Again, idiot decisions from our Idiots In Charge who can’t do basic math and do not know how things work. (But do know how to get their vigorish… It’s all about the Vig…)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, News Related, Political Current Events. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Food Crisis or Bad Leaders?

  1. philjourdan says:

    Food shortages are almost ALWAYS due to stupid, evil, corrupt, etc. leaders. The last time that was not the case was in about 1818 when a volcano blew its top.

  2. erl happ says:

    Great analysis.

  3. Georgiaboy61 says:

    Re: “To know if we have an approaching ‘Global Food Crisis’ due to the war in Ukraine, or if it is just bad decisions by “leaders”, it is necessary to ‘run some numbers’.”

    The people behind this crisis and incipient famine want very badly for the average person to believe that food shortages are occurring because of the war in Ukraine and other factors beyond their control, but that is simply a smokescreen. The globalist oligarchs and billionaires are deliberately engineering this crisis as a means of advancing their agenda. A few years ago, one might have been termed a “conspiracy theorist” for making such claims and safely dismissed – but the claim has now moved from the realm of theory to cold, hard fact.

    More than twenty major food processing facilities and plants across the U.S. and around the world were recently hit with mysterious fires, explosions, and other calamities. One even suffered a light aircraft crashing into it…. very creative work by the black bag boys. The war in Ukraine “conveniently” takes some of the finest farmland in the world mostly out of circulation, and worse yet, both Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of fertilizer worldwide. Why “conveniently”? Because these events dovetail closely with the stated and public goals of the globalist oligarchs, c.f. the Georgia Guidestones, Agenda 2030 and the Great Reset.

    Closely-aligned with this effort is the globalist-deep state attack upon America’s energy and agricultural infrastructure. High diesel fuel prices drive prices up for everything else, since virtually everything Americans consume is transported by semi-trucks rolling 24-7-365 on our highways. From the moment he entered office, Biden and his handlers have waged war upon fossil fuels. Allegedly in the name of environmentalism, but in actuality because Biden and company are bought-and-paid-for members of the globalist movement. Employees, you might call them. Closely-tied to this is the state of agricultural products which depend on fossil fuels for their production, including many fertilizers and herbicides and other chemicals used in the course of normal farming.

    Most people think of bombs, bullets and guns when thinking about war, but war can just as effectively be waged using other means, such as food shortages and famine. The communists know this especially well, since they used deliberately induced famine to kill millions during the 20th century alone in Stalin’s Ukraine during the 1920s-1930s, Mao’s Red China in the 1950s and 1960s, to name two prominent examples.

  4. AC Osborn says:

    I think Indonesia’s increase in wheat demand may have something to do with them pushing Organic Farming on their farmers.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    I think that was Sri Lanka where “Green” “leadership” created a famine ouf of nothing. Rather like broken policy in Rhodesia “bread basket of Africa” turned it into Zimbabwe net food importer…

    What’s the worse thing a government could do in these circumstances? Make it more difficult for farmers to produce food. Sadly, that’s exactly what Sri Lanka did in 2021. Following the advice of head-in-the-clouds environmental activists, the island nation banned imports of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as part of its effort to achieve 100 percent organic food production. When this policy led to shortages, as any economist or agriculture scientist knew it would, the government blamed rich people for hoarding commodities and set price controls for staples like sugar, onions, and rice.

    The results of Sri Lanka’s experiment are in—and they’re nothing short of devastating. Al Jazeera reported on January 26 that the government has agreed to pay $200 million in restitution to rice farmers “whose crops were destroyed,” the country’s agriculture minister said, on top of another $149 million in subsidies to help these growers rebuild their operations. In total, in the middle of a pandemic that has left so many people hungry, Al Jazeera noted that

    “About a third of Sri Lanka’s agricultural land was left dormant last year because of the import ban.”

    A predictable outcome

    Economist Alex Tabarrok’s pithy take on Sri Lanka’s experiment: “A good example of central planning in action.” The government was forced (or rather forced its citizens) to learn the hard way that public officials are incapable of dictating how a nation’s food should be produced. They literally cannot know, for example, how much rice consumers will eat in a given year or how much of which inputs (like fertilizer) farmers will require to grow the crop.

    Lofty goals like protecting “the health of the people and environment” are no substitute for the market mechanisms that accurately guide the decisions farmers and consumers make. The same rule applies to any good or service we consume.

    The triumph of hubris over experience, lead to a new experience informing hubris who is boss…

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    While it is possible to get the same yield with organic farming as with chemical, that has major caveats.

    It takes years to decades to convert a farm effectively. 5 years minimum.
    It takes a huge amount of new labor.
    It takes a lot of new methods snd skills.
    It is not cheap.
    The products grown will likely be a mixture of different things, including animals.
    Shipping will be more complex and both processing and shipping cost more.

    Basically, you can get huge yields of a mono crop with chemicals, easily harvested and shipped with bulk handling equipment, at relatively low labor use with one straight forward technique.

    Going organic takes a lot of labor, with many techniques, using complex cropping systems to process and ship a mix of products. While it is possible to monocrop, the result is not as good (organic needs some animal poo or a lot of compost along with crop rotations to control pests and soil health).

    I’ve observed the operation of an organic farm that succeeded. One example difference? Instead of spraying a field with weed killer from one big machine, each field had hand use of a propane weed burner, along with several laborers inspecting each field and hand pulling weeds when the crop was established. One farmer vs a team of about 6.

    All farming was organic 100 years ago, but farms used an enormous labor pool. The great migration off the farm was allowed by chemical farming. Eliminate chemical farming and you need to move about 1/3 of your population back to the farm…

  7. Simon Derricutt says:

    EM – yep, without the pesticides/fungicides, the reliability of getting a crop also drops. About the only way of controlling some pests is to hand-pick them off, which is labour-intensive. I’d figure that in future robots will be produced to perform those hand-jobs of weeding and picking, and such things are in development and testing because of the legal problems in getting seasonal workers these days. I expect them to be practically useful in 5-10 years (at the moment they all seem to be much slower than humans) as it takes a while to develop the software. Looks like things like tomato-picking are probably good to go now in greenhouse situations. Pruning the grapevines by machine has been attempted, but still needs a skilled person to tidy the job up.

    The machine harvesting counters the main benefits of monoculture, and allows a mixed culture that is more resistant to disease yet still has high yield. Could be advantages in that in future, just not quite yet.

  8. jim2 says:

    No, no. Bill gates will engineer a mosquito with AI and CV to recognize pests and inject them with his killer mRNA vaccine.

  9. H.R. says:

    Okay. “Food Crisis” is probably a bad choice of where to put this, but I just made the best batch of pulled pork I have ever eaten anywhere, anytime, at any price.

    Apologies in advance to any people starving due to the marching orders of the GEBs handed down to allegedly elected leaders such as the current pResident of the U.S.

    I have a pellet smoker grill. I used competition pellets which are a mixture of oak, hickory, and apple(?) or cherry (?). I used a Texas brisket dry rub on the pork. It had the right ‘smell’ compared to the 3 different Memphis rubs I could choose from. I chose well.

    I smoked the 10# pork shoulder (99¢ per pound!), dry rubbed at 250F for three hours. After that, the smoke wasn’t going to penetrate the meat any further, so I pulled it off the smoker grill and wrapped it tightly in HD aluminum foil. It went into a convection oven at 250(F) for 5 more hours.

    Okay… The flavor being “best EVAH!” is arguable, as there are a lot of different preferences in flavor profiles. Some like it hot, some sweet, some with the Carolina vinegar taste, some more garlicky, and so on. The brisket was more on the garlic/savory side, emphasis more on savory than garlic.

    But the cooked meat result was a home run. Smokey, moist, and so tender, any toothless old geezer could chomp it down. It came out absolutely melt-in-your-mouth tender with a great smoke flavor and no need for any sauce to add a little moisture.


    Once again, apologies to those who are reduced to eating tube steak made of “meat and meat by products” due to the insane, harmful policies Biden’s master have tasked him with enacting.

  10. bob sykes says:

    The grain shortage doesn’t exist. Ukrainian wheat and other crops are reaching market. They are being shipped to Romanian ports, and loaded on ships for the international trade. Ukraine has mined the ports it currently controls (and Mariupol) to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. However, Russia has stated that it would support a shipping channel through the mine fields if someone would clear them.

  11. Bob

    Link please, as I can find no reliable sources that confirm the resumption of shipments of any Ukraine grains.

  12. jim2 says:

    Ukraine’s Grain Shipments Face Tight Capacity at Polish Ports

    Polish operator says its Baltic ports running at full capacity
    Some 80% of Ukrainian grain exports seen sent through Poland

  13. philjourdan says:

    @HR – Re: Starving – no, not starving! Just have an old man’s appetite and can’t eat like I use to, and you post this? Oi Vey!

    Be still my youthful hunger! :-)

  14. Taz says:

    Thank you for this breakdown.

  15. E.M.Smith says:


    Once I have a decent yard again, I need to get a new (smaller…) smoker. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to make the equivalent of my old brick BBQ as a smoker…


    You are most welcome.

    I’ve found it is VERY useful to supply all the numbers and math that is 100% missing from “news” stories. In my experience, it usually illustrates all the “hype” in their breathlessness rather nicely…

    Like: I’d like to see the number of high school kids killed by drug overdose, or drunk driving, or even gang assaults per year vs those killed in (GASP!) school shootings. I’m pretty darned sure that any and all three of those vastly swamp any “gun problem” on campus. But I’ve not had the time….

  16. philjourdan says:

    I got to get use to this new posting schedule! I am use to Chiefio posting on WST! :-)

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