Time to share one of the many important questions I have been receiving, as it is nice to occasionally examine our food choices on a global basis and in specifically in other countries. They write:
“I’m uncomfortably aware that we might have a grain failure this year, perhaps in Russia, and perhaps more the following season. Most grain goes to feed livestock – I wonder what the impact will be. Care to comment, Dr Oppenlander?”
And, my response: I appreciate the opportunity to answer your question and will do so in more of an overview fashion. Conditions of drought in any country, is never good news for agriculture in general. You are right that grain production, and wheat specifically, in Russia has suffered significantly. This is also the case in China although they have built large reserves to help compensate for losses. Russia, though, has lost over 25% of their wheat crop last year and subsequently imposed an export ban that is now extended through 2011, and it appears the effect will spill over into other sectors. You are also quite right that most of the grain produced in Russia and on our planet is fed to livestock we raise to then kill and eat—over 60% of all grain produced. With drought in Russia, livestock feed is affected first and will always be the hardest hit followed much later by a trickle down into retail products such as bread. However, there is already a concern that food prices will continue to rise on a global basis, so this drought will certainly not help as Russia historically provides at least 10% of the world’s supply of wheat. Russia still focuses most of its agricultural efforts on livestock with a strong poultry, pig, and dairy dependence. The largest concern Russia has with the effect of a drought (and in this case, with less grain/wheat production) is for feeding its livestock, not people. They have more than 25 million cattle that will need to now rely on a reduced amount of hay and also loss of pasture growth, thus, they will need to turn to grain such as wheat—and so begins the ban on exporting hay. They need it to feed livestock. Additionally, I noticed that they have increased their beef imports from the U.S. by more than 600% over the past 6 months and from Canada by 450% as compared to one year ago. All of this simply is more evidence of how dependent a country, and our world, can become on archaic and inefficient agricultural systems that use the preponderance of their resources to raise animals for slaughter rather than a fraction of which for plant-based foods that can be used directly for human consumption. Russia is delivering the message that if a country cannot provide enough meat to satisfy the demand of their citizens, well, then they will just import it from another country. No need to consider just eating less of it or none at all. Last year, there was enough grain produced, world-wide, to feed 12 billion people—almost twice the amount of people we have on our planet. As you know, the wheat crisis that Russia or any other country experiences is simply a matter of inappropriate direction of use. I am also very saddened with the global hunger issue; however, in order to solve it we must first examine the very essence of our own choice of foods. If we, and the affected countries themselves, continue to use land, water, and other resources to grow crops to feed livestock we will never see progress, especially when there are climate changes involved, such as drought in this case with Russia. Thank you for the question and your concern for a healthier Earth.