Global food chains face more uncertainty, instability

For the second time in two years, a history-making calamity has shown just how fragile the world’s efficiency-driven, deeply interdependent food system is.

Two years ago, a rampaging pandemic threatened America’s pantries. Today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens supplies of key ag inputs like fuel and fertilizer while causing deep disruptions to global wheat, corn, and vegetable oil markets. Just how badly, though, remains unknown.

What we do know is that on the export side, Russia and the independent nation it invaded, Ukraine, account for 29% of global wheat exports, 19% of the world’s corn exports, and 75% of the world’s sunflower oil exports.

On the input side, every American farmer knows Russia’s big role in global fertilizer markets. It controls 21% of the world’s potash and, equally bad, its only ally in the Ukrainian invasion, Belarus, holds another 21%.

Alan Guebert

And that’s not all. Russia has a strong hand on both sides of the today/tomorrow energy divide: Its natural gas reserves drive the European heating market (at five times the cost of American natural gas) and the global anhydrous ammonia markets. Also, its large supply of copper, palladium, and nickel — all key ingredients in the world’s push to electrify itself — is rattling today’s green energy markets.

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