“We need at least a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in total wheat production.”
I just ordered a bunch of seeds, something I do every year. I save some seeds from last summer's garden, but I'm a sucker for cute little seed packages, and it makes it easier to use the left-overs in class.
We grow all kinds of vegetables, and we're still nibbling from the Brussels sprout stalks that survived the heavy snows. We like to eat. Most animals do.
We like to drive, too. Most animals don't. And our driving habits are biting into our eating habits.
Wheat and corn cost about 50% more than they did a year ago. That's not such a big deal (yet) here in the States, where we casually drop a dollar to buy a box of Candy Sweethearts for our love, less than 10 minutes worth of minimum wage labor.
A few years ago, all of our grain went to feed us, or the animals we planned to eat. Now a chunk of it goes to fuel our vehicles.
Teasing apart the stories can be tedious, and the corn-based ethanol folks will be quick to point out that the corn they use is feed corn, that it saves lots of petroleum that would be used otherwise, and that, by golly, it's the American way. Food prices go up for a lot of reasons--drought, speculation, floods. In the next few months you'll hear a drumbeat against the Chinese "hoarding" wheat.
To be fair, a lot of stomachs reside in China, and it's been hit by drought. It's easier (and so much politer) than blaming the SUV your neighbor drives.
It's pretty simple, really. So long as our population and grain yields go in contrary directions, our food prices will rise. So long as Americans can buy candy for a few minutes of work, we won't notice. And so long as economists keep getting paid to announce the blazingly obvious, they'll keep shouting about it instead of tilling the earth.
It gets down to biology. We are graced with just so many calories a year from our sun, with more stored as petroleum from millions upon millions of sunny days that preceded the arrival of humans.
I got a class full of children who can recite the stages of mitosis, and I get paid reasonably well to make sure this happens. If my lambs cannot make the connection between the corn in the Candy Hearts, the biofuel in their mother's SUV, and the effect of rising food prices in Egypt, well, I've not done my job, no matter how well my students perform on a state test.
I need to do better. It starts with the packets of tiny seeds.