Colleen Scherer
Colleen Scherer

At least once a week, if not more frequently, the mainstream media is reporting on the rising cost of food in the United States. Fears of another global food crisis, like the one that happened in 2008, have returned and likely will increase to a fevered pitch this summer.

Talk of rising food prices crept back into the public’s general awareness this winter when the effects of last summer’s global crop failures began showing up in some product pricing. But as gasoline prices have increased ahead of the heavy summer driving season, more people are worrying about the subsequent rise in food prices that often accompanies higher fuel costs.

Fueling the fire of this news is a report released March 31 that claims the world’s food supply is shrinking, which is forcing food prices higher and setting up a state of emergency for much of the world’s population. A UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative told Bloomberg that “world food production would have to increase by 70 percent by 2050 to meet the increasing demand from an expanding global population that is expected to eclipse the 9.1 billion mark by 2050…” The article goes on to promote backyard gardening as a way to help.

In other news, the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates released by USDA in April showed a 5 percent stocks-to-use ratio for corn.

“A 5 percent stocks-to-use ratio is still historically low,” explained Todd Davis, crops economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. “That represents just 18 days of supply, so we’re still going to need a big 2011 corn crop because we don’t expect any drop in total use this year.

“USDA released its prospective plantings report showing farmers intend to plant 92.2 million acres of corn this year, which would be the second largest corn acreage since 1944. This shows that farmers are going to step up to the plate and produce the corn that the market is calling for. The market needs corn this year, and farmers will deliver.”

However, a competition is being set in the South and Mid-South among cotton and corn and soybeans. In the past, southern states have planted more grain crops when prices rose and the world faced a food crisis. This year, many farmers are expected to plant cotton in ground where they grew corn, soybeans or wheat last year. This is due to higher cotton prices as poor harvests around the world have tightened cotton supplies.

Starting to sound familiar? During the 2008 global food crisis, agriculture was blamed for growing more corn for ethanol than for food. In the April WASDE report, a slight reduction in corn supply was indicated due to ethanol use. Corn growers and the renewable fuels industry continue fighting the battle that not that much corn supply is being diverted to ethanol use.

The Renewable Fuels Association’s CEO and President Bob Dinneen noted, “Global corn production is looking stronger than many were expecting. In particular, production in South America and Africa has been robust. Farmers in countries like Uganda are responding to higher world prices by increasing production through the use of better technology and improved farming practices. Higher prices are allowing farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions to participate in the world market, and likely many of them are earning a profit on their crops for the first time in years.”

Organizations like RFA and the National Corn Growers likely will face increasing scrutiny over the summer months as gasoline prices are forecasted to increase. As gas prices rise, consumer food prices typically increase as well, but the blame for food prices lands on agriculture, not the oil companies.