Wheat Exporter Russia Begs China for Food

As noted yesterday, the US government appears to be declassifying details of Russia’s requests to China for help. After revealing that the US had learned of Russia’s requests, yesterday (the same day in which Jake Sullivan had a seven hour meeting with Yang Jiechi) more details about what Russia requested were released. CNN even reported on a cable shared with allies detailing that Russia had asked for Meals Ready to Eat — basically food for its soldiers.

In a diplomatic cable, the US relayed to its allies in Europe and Asia that China had conveyed a willingness to assist Russia, which has asked for military support. The cable did not state definitively that assistance had been provided. One official also said the US warned in the cable that China would likely deny it was willing to provide assistance.

Among the assistance Russia requested was pre-packaged, non-perishable military food kits, known in the US as “meal, ready-to-eat,” or MREs, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The request underscores the basic logistical challenges that military analysts and officials say have stymied Russian progress in Ukraine — and raises questions about the fundamental readiness of the Russian military.

Forward-deployed units have routinely outstripped their supply convoys and open source reports have shown Russian troops breaking into grocery stores in search of food as the invasion has progressed. One of the sources suggested that food might be a request that China would be willing to meet, because it stops short of lethal assistance that would be seen as deeply provocative by the west.

CNN is right that a request for MREs suggests a logistical failure to prepare for this invasion.

But the symbolism is far more alarming (which may be why it was included in a cable that got leaked).

As Al Jazeera notes, Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter, accounting for 18% of the total, with Ukraine another big producer.

The sanctions on Russia and Ukrainian farmers’ focus on capturing tanks will significantly impact wheat markets globally — though one key impact will be that Russia will send wheat to China instead of Egypt and Turkey.

Meanwhile, Ukraine exported over $3 billion grain and other agricultural products to China in 2020.

Unless Russia were to leave Ukraine today, most of those exports won’t be delivered this year.

On top of all the other things that Russia did by invading Ukraine, it has created the conditions for food insecurity around the globe — the kind of food insecurity that large countries like China can ill afford.

That’s going to happen, too, as COVID shutdowns in China are about to cause more supply chain crises around the globe.

At the moment that Russia is destabilizing both Europe and much of the world (in part because a key food producer will be harvesting tanks and cluster bombs instead of grain), Russia has asked China for help feeding its soldiers.


107 replies
  1. madwand says:

    So I wonder the logistics of getting one meal from China into the hands of one hungry soldier in Ukraine. For a comparison every single day during the Vietnam War the US provided two eggs for every soldiers breakfast meal. At the height that was over a million fresh eggs a day brought in every day. I have no idea where those chickens came from or how long that supply line was but we got eggs every morning.

    And then we got other things for instance, hot dogs for lunch and roast beef for dinner two weeks or more straight. I heard a unit during the Gulf War received 3 pallets of t rats enough for a month, all lasagna, but hey they didn’t go hungry.

    • Eureka says:

      In later WWII ETO the food trains notoriously lagged their respective companies (this is besides things like the winter gear being mis-delivered to Africa winter ’44-’45). There are stories of soldiers taking what they could from fields. One described being so starving he ate a raw turnip shaved with his machete.

      My grandfather got quite a bounty when, on guard duty one night, a cow passed into the perimeter: orders were to shoot anyone on sight lacking the passcode. [There’s a smidge of joke-lore in there, but not really.]

      • madwand says:

        And that’s how my Dad got shot, hit by a BAR round during passage of lines and a password screwup. Drafted at thirty, he survived but the war was over for him and he had issues the rest of his life.

        I hope they enjoyed that cow.

        • Eureka says:

          This (and hiding, lurking Nazis) is why the caveat about it being no joke; sorry to hear about what happened to your dad.

          GF was older, too.

          From diagnosing the weight of story, I’d say the cow was the main highlight for some very hungry men in an alternately terrifying slog towards many gates of atrocity. He didn’t talk much about the camps, but the cow — and some sloppy Soviets they ran into — sure.

          • madwand says:

            Yeah for sure, that’s the problem do you talk about it or bury it. Awhile back a few years ago veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were committing suicide at the incredible number of 22 a day. Other than it being a statistic that the military the VA and VSOs and military families deal with on a regular basis the country as a whole has been insulated from the effects. Most vets I meet are like your GF, they try to remember the humorous things, they don’t really want to talk about it, but that in essence is part of the process, coming to terms with it in your own mind.

            • ducktree says:

              Mark Anthony and Cleopatra come to mind: While Rome was plundering and pillaging throughout Europe to build empire, Egypt was supplying it the wheat needed to sustain the Roman soldiers.

              As it ever was, and shall continue…

            • Eureka says:

              And then there are channelings: when I was little, my uncle after a few would tell me his father’s war stories but not his own. He does now, but might use his dad’s for warm-up unless the talk is prompted by questions or current events.

              Yes, the cultural openings to discuss any given conflict in all of its psycho-sociological glory come decades late, if at all — and still often somehow manage to leave out the people. Or it all gets shut down because we’re in another one.

              Does anyone recall the name/artist of that mid-80s song that had a spoken-word segment about (the number of American servicemembers who died in) the Korean War — could’ve been about Vietnam instead, or both? Driving me nuts I can’t find it.

                • Eureka says:

                  Thank you — your comment wasn’t visible to me last night, but is much appreciated.
                  (As below I got lucky and found it, you are correct.)

              • Eureka says:

                37 years later, found it: Paul Hardcastle’s “19” from 1985, based the average age of American combat soldiers in Vietnam; a one-hit wonder that goes between spoken voice, song, electronica mixes, with lots of fact-reporting.

                See the lyrics and its wiki and it’s apparent why it comes to mind here. I remembered it being weird and profound but it’s really something. Deep stuff for the time and pop context.

      • RLHall says:

        O/T but my father-in-law was an army ranger that winter. He and his squad had no winter gear, so draped themselves in bedsheets for camo and to keep a little warmer. In January, 1945, he was captured, and though openly Jewish, he survived (MIA the whole time) and was liberated from a work camp on his 20th birthday, in April.
        His future wife worked in a cannery in Baltimore, staffed by Nazi POWs, whose products were shipped to Europe as soon as made to feed our soldiers.

        • Eureka says:

          That’s quite the family origin story for your in-laws, RLHall.

          I wonder if our people crossed paths that April …

          The Nazis agreed to a cease-fire to allow the Swiss Red Cross to deliver wool sweaters and scarves for men in my GF’s div. around New Year’s. I worry anachronistically about that winter and have always appreciated that act of comfort.

          While carefully reviewing the long list of donation items requested by the local Ukrainian women’s organization for shipment, I cried.

  2. Rugger9 says:

    War efforts that ignore the economics usually fail. Nations that outsource their security will soon be conquered (lots of examples in history for both concepts). MREs (Meals Rejected by Everybody) are an improvement over C-rats but that is a very low bar. This is a symptom of the Russian oligarchs’ kleptocracy (Adam Silverman at Balloon Juice has a good post on this as well) because feeding the troops is the most important thing to do as a commander. Lots of examples in history for that concept as well.

    Leon Trotsky understood this in the Russian Civil War, leading to his edict that the Red Army was to be fed first (brutally enforced as needed). The fact that Russia is asking for food in addition to soldiers / military aid from the PRC makes it even more clear to Xi that the Russian Far East will have a hard time defending itself. If Putin can’t feed his troops in Ukraine or keep them supplied with gas and ammo, then a supply chain thousands of miles longer looks very suspect indeed. We shall see what the PRC does, I agree with Silverman’s take that Xi would supply food as a ‘humanitarian’ gesture to minimize blowback for aiding Putin but I suspect it will come with strings attached.

    I would also think that this makes it imperative that NATO stay out of this as a belligerent until / unless Putin crosses the border into one of its members. If a free hand in the South China Sea is Xi’s master plan there is no need to help him achieve it.


    • Rugger9 says:

      Apparently Russia needs money too. Bloomberg reports something like 150 b$ is involved, with 1.5 B$ due today. We’ll see if this is accurate but if so that would put a severe crimp into any options Putin has. It’s hard to respect a despot that can’t buy anything for you. It’s doubtful IMHO that the PRC will cut them much slack or lend Putin renminbi at a tolerable rate unless it’s a money for food swap.

      As it is, the collapse of the ruble (which has to be used to pay all of this due to sanctions) also means lots of vacationing Russians are stuck (TBF, I don’t think they really want to go back now, but they don’t have money to stay where they are either).


      • ducktree says:

        Well ~ I had the “opportunity” to eat a MRE in basic training at Lackland AFB in 1976 after our flight was marched to the firing range for weapons training and target practice. The MREs were from the Korean War era: potted meat (deviled ham), Ritz type crackers and canned fruit cocktail. Eeyuck. Although growing up in the 60’s, I loved Underwood’s deviled ham sandwiches . . .

        • Eureka says:

          OMG that little chubby paper-wrapped can — loved those sandwiches (or on some Ritz).

          HAHA, piling various things on crackers is when I learned what hors d’oeuvre were not-really.

        • P J Evans says:

          I’ve eaten them much more recently – surplus stores sell them as emergency food supplies. You could do worse (powdered peanut butter – I’ve heard the Boy scouts won’t eat it).

  3. harpie says:

    1] 3/7/22 Ukraine: bakery near Kiev bombed, 13 dead
    https://newsrnd [dot] com/life/ [break] 2022-03-07-ukraine–bakery-near-kiev-bombed–13-dead.HkAQ5j7bc.html

    2] 3/10/22 Frozen food warehouse near Kyiv catches on fire due to shelling
    https://nypost [dot] com/2022/03/10/latest-russia-ukraine-news-live-updates-of-the-war-3/

    3] 3/15/22 Warehouse Bombed, Tractors Stolen as Russia Strikes Ukraine Food Russia hits deep in supply chain for agribusiness: companies // Ukraine says sowing jeopardized in Europe’s breadbasket
    https://www.bloomberg [dot] com/news/articles/2022-03-15/warehouse-bombed-tractors-stolen-as-russia-strikes-ukraine-food March 15, 2022, 7:44 AM EDT

    • Rayne says:

      I wondered how long it would be before they started targeting food. Russian troops can’t reliably feed themselves because of their shitty logistics but sure, take out Ukraine’s food supply chain.

      • BobCon says:

        My sense is that Putin is planning on a massive refugee crisis designed to burden the governments of Poland, Germany, the Baltics and elsewhere with feeding and housing millions of refugees.

        He is probably hoping to see tensions rise if some countries bear a disproportionate share of costs. And while Ukraine is mostly White, there are enough nonwhites, Romani, Jewish people, and others living there that refugees would provide propaganda opportunities for dirtbags in the Murdoch media. Tucker Carlson has had a crazy obsession with Romani for years.

        • Alan Charbonneau says:

          “My sense is that Putin is planning on a massive refugee crisis designed to burden the governments of Poland, Germany, the Baltics and elsewhere with feeding and housing millions of refugees.”

          He may very well get that, but the cost to Russia is incredibly high. Maybe this is not plan B but plan Y—everything goes wrong so what’s left is to salvage something, like the West being burdened with refugees. It’s like a mosquito lands on your foot and you kill it with a sledgehammer, “Phyrric victory” doesn’t even begin to describe this.

          • BobCon says:

            He and his allies have already done it on a small scale with refugees from Syria and elsewhere and I don’t see them having any problem trying it on a much bigger scale.

            For that matter, China has long feared a massive influx of North Korean refugees if Kim Jung Un’s government ever collapses. I hope they are thinking hard about pressuring Putin to stop before he drives Russia into collapse and they start facing huge influxes from Russia’s borders in Asia.

        • skua says:

          “Tucker Carlson has had a crazy obsession with Romani for years.”
          The 1930s-1940s Nazis had a similar obsession with Romani. And took Germany to hell. And on April 30 1945 “Goebbels and his wife committed suicide, after poisoning their six children with cyanide”. Tucker probably loves his kids as much as Goebbles did. Tucker thinks he’s different.

          • ducktree says:

            Even with all the available frozen Swanson TV dinners he has at his disposal, I wouldn’t put it past that putz . . .

    • harpie says:

      Via nycsouthpaw:

      7:28 AM · Mar 15, 2022

      Russia is preparing a mass deforestation of Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories, said the Ministry of Defense, citing a letter from Sergei Shoigu to Putin, Russia is planning to cut down greenery of “any age, regardless of ownership and land zoning.” / The wood will be sold to support the Russian army. 2/2

      • Alan Charbonneau says:

        “The wood will be sold to support the Russian army.”
        What’s next, a bake sale?

        • Wajim says:

          Sure, “Russia is preparing a mass deforestation of Ukraine’s temporarily occupied territories.” Uh-huh. Do you realize the enormous amount of time, people, and logistical/financial resources that would require, all the while maintaining security for the same in an insurgency? It is to laugh.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I didn’t say Putin was more logical than Trump. His skill in logistical operations is, for example, a tad overrated.

            But you might be surprised at how global large-scale illegal logging is. Pirate logging, if you will. Romania and Bulgarian forests are among the latest victims. IKEA’s sourcing alone is a threat, let alone a determined dictator seeking the renewal of his lost empire.

            The deforestation would go hand-in-hand with extended fighting – to keep his preferred enemy front and center – to act out his need for revenge, and to justify the lost of people, treasure, and status. It might also entice China to aid him. Denuded forests in SE Asia are testimony to its appetite for lumber.

      • harpie says:

        To me, the threatened “deforestation” is the important part.
        The words Agent Orange come to mind.

      • emptywheel says:

        Since they can’t even get tanks INTO Ukraine I’m not sure how they plan to get trees OUT.

        • Troutwaxer says:

          The goal isn’t to sell wood, but to eliminate hiding places for Ukrainian militia with Javelins. I suspect that Ukrainian commanders understand this – tree-cutting crew will be what you do with soldiers you would have previously sent to Siberia, or worse.

          • harpie says:

            Yes, that’s what I think, as well. [That’s what the US said it used Agent Orange for…so tree-cutting is marginally better, but still…]

            • harpie says:

              And if they are planning to get rid of the underbrush as well, we might be looking at fire instead…And now I will STOP…but I do not think it’s about selling the wood.

              • Judy says:

                Maybe it is just because I live in California but my first thought was fire. I don’t know what a forest fire would be like in their climate.
                Today I was thinking about all the disruptions we have had over the last six plus years. It made me think that Trump running/ getting elected president was like opening Pandora’s Box. What will be the next ugly thing to appear?

                • Belyn says:

                  The climate is wetter and cooler than where you live.
                  I found Belarus / Gomel area to be similar to Minnesota in the spring. Ukraine is further south so a bit warmer. Ground will be wet assuming normalish snowfall and thaw. Of course it’s a big area, so I am speaking very generally.

          • madwand says:

            There are two types of ambushes convoys and assault groups on roads need to protect from, near and far. Near is the immediate wood line where small arms are effective at least against non armored vehicles. The second is far, doctrine used to be 400 meters but with Javelins and Nlaws you might have to cut back the wood line even further. In watching the tanks being attacked by Ukrainians the other day they hit the lead and then the last of the first group, that’s doctrine also, then everyone in the middle is theoretically trapped and it’s a turkey shoot.

            In using agent orange in Nam they cleared back 400 meters in vulnerable areas. Most roads were unpaved and so the chemical sank into the road. Convoys coming along looked like a sand storm from the air. Only the lead vehicle was free of the dust being generated, the rest of the convoy and drivers/passengers were sucking dust and it was difficult for drivers to stay in contact with the one ahead. Over the years as diseases from agent orange took effect veterans might remark that they were killed in Vietnam but didn’t know it at the time.

    • Cinco says:

      War is a complex action full of unintended consequences. so, Russians are running out of food. Too bad for them. They are the aggressors. So, they didn’t plan ahead? As defenders of their country, Ukraine has been able to block some of their supply chains. Now the Russians are taking food out of the mouths of Ukrainians, But to keep their invasion up and running, as pathetic as it has been, they need to beg food from China. Russia wants to beg food from China. l say screw that. Let them starve. lf China sends them goodwill EU countries supply Ukraine more arms? Who is going to blink first? From what l’ve read, Russia’s economy is going to crash soon. Then Russia Becomes a Total failed state. And then?

      • Cinco says:

        Sorry to reply to my own comment, but this short video from Ukraine is sad and happy beyond belief. lt tears at my heart. https ://twitter .com/mjluxmoore/ status/1499012343581364224 Do those battle field prisoners of war even know where they are? Do they remember the last time they were fed? lf the situation were reversed, l hope l would be as kind of her.

      • skua says:

        ” Then Russia Becomes a Total failed state. And then?”

        Why would China let that happen when they could instead have their northern neighbour, a vast resource-rich, former super-power, with ready access to Europe, the north Pacific and the Arctic, be a low threat client-state just by supporting and investing in /buying up Russia?
        China has been clear in its desire for Taiwan. That doesn’t mean it is their highest short/medium term goal.

  4. Badger Robert says:

    Egypt and Turkey, along with the rest of the Islamic world would seem to need a quick resolution. That would require Ukrainian defeat and surrender. Western Europe and Eastern Europe don’t want that solution, nor does the US.
    The other quick solution is a decisive Ukrainian victory. Victory in this situation might look different than in a traditional war. If the supply lines remain open, and the refugees are cared for, and Ukrainians prove they can never be beaten, that might be victory.

    • Rugger9 says:

      If the PRC is going to tap into the wheat supply, the Middle East will need alternatives because Putin needs the PRC on his side right now. Is there any indication about how the US and Canada crops will be?

      Of course the Russian wingnuts are as delusional as ours. One of their more reactionary MPs was busy demanding the return of Alaska and Fort Ross (in CA) even though the Czars sold Alaska to us in 1867 (Seward’s Icebox/Folly) and renounced their claims to CA before that when they couldn’t find enough sea otters.

      • JamesJoyce says:

        “Of course the Russian wingnuts are as delusional as ours.”


        Former DNI Man Dan Coats 2018 World Wide Threat Assessment described Vlad Putin’s and Trump’s MO.

        Right & Reich Wing Nuts United..

        “Miestenguizen,” or else?

        Ukraine another bread basket of the World…

        Can’t have to much wheat world…

        That would cost the corporations to much money, having affordable wheat, bread like gasoline?”

        Scarcity, fear and manipulation?

        Adam Smith 101

      • drouse says:

        I do know that we’ve got the stuff piling up in places like SeaTac. The shipping lines are prioritizing returning empty containers making it difficult for our current crop exports to get out. Additional bulkers will require time to divert from their current routes. If they can be.

      • Alan K says:

        Canadian export forecasts of grain and oilseed for 2021/22 down to 31,705 kilotonnes (from 51,041 last year) due to severe drought in Western Canada. I don’t know how dire that will be for world food stocks, but losing 40% of the Canadian crop exports seems like it could be significant. BTW this forecast was released in November 2021, so for sure the smart importers have been stockpiling since last fall.


      • Alan Charbonneau says:

        “Of course the Russian wingnuts are as delusional as ours.”
        Everyone needs to remember that.

        The management professor, Warren Bennis, wrote that when he was in WWII he complained to a superior that top brass didn’t understand what they needed, couldn’t give them support or clarity, and basically suggested they were incompetent. The senior officer replied, “hell, kid, they’ve got an army too”.

        There is a tendency to regard your opponents as not affected by the things that democracies deal with, like corruption, much less anticipating it will be worse. Prior to the invasion, Putin was said to be a “chess master”. Now we see that he is a Russian version of Trump, an egomaniac who thinks because he has power, he can simply use it. He plans for an easy invasion, but as Mike Tyson said, everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

        The nut jobs of Russia are at least as dangerous as MTG, and perhaps no more intelligent, hard to believe as that is.

        • rip says:

          Prior to the invasion, Putin was said to be a “chess master”. Now we see that he is a Russian version of Trump, an egomaniac who thinks because he has power, he can simply use it.

          The russian version of the “stable genius”.

          • skua says:

            Cf. Thai generals who try to preserve their status/authority by not issuing orders that could be ignored or “misunderstood”.
            That connection between your steering wheel and your front tyres is conditional. And you’ll never realise just how fast you are really going till it fails.

          • Ken Muldrew says:

            Wind back the clock just a bit and he had a pretty good run of almost Napoleonic success. Not remotely like Trump.

            A brief recap (though vicious and inhuman, as great-power strategies go, these are definitely in the “chess master” class):
            – fractured EU unity by delivering overwhelming numbers of refugees to poorer EU countries (weaponized immigration)
            – used chemical weapons to drive human displacement rather than to kill people (EU destabilization was the goal)
            – used chemical weapons frivolously as well as radioactive poisons and nerve agents for assassinations to suggest a madness that might use nuclear weapons
            – enriched selected oligarchs and then had them carry out the State’s business as private individuals to shield the State from responsibility
            – played on the sacralization of private property to hide nation-state espionage as the business dealings of wealthy individuals (weaponized capitalism)
            – used social media micro-targeting to influence susceptible populations within democracies to fracture those democracies
            – used huge numbers of trolls and amplification bots to create the illusion of popular movements within democracies
            – bought politicos and influencers with cash, one capitalist to another
            – almost destroyed NATO by having a captive US president set out to dismantle it

        • xy xy says:

          How long were Americans told the best military in the world was going to take to beat Iraq and Afghanistan?
          I don’t recall it was supposed to take a decade or two.

          • Rayne says:

            US military was supposed be greeted with candy and flowers on arrival in Iraq. ~eye roll~

            Literally the same bullshit story Russians were told about entering Ukraine to save Ukrainians from the Nazis occupying their country.

  5. Badger Robert says:

    Its entirely possible that the logistical support coming into Ukraine from Poland and Romania, food and medical supplies, will be more important than manned aircraft. Similarly the low cost drones sent by Turkey, meant to be disposable, make the additional advantage of manned aircraft not worth the cost or the risk.

  6. harpie says:

    Two re-tweets in a row from Laura Rozen:

    1] 10:47 AM NEW: State Dept goes after President Lukashenka of Belarus He and his family are barred from entering US for ‘gross violations of human rights and significant corruption’
    https://twitter.com/robcrilly/status/1503744757222330377 10:47 AM · Mar 15, 2022

    2] 10:50 AM Russia sanctions Joe Biden, Tony Blinken and….Hunter Biden and Hillary Clinton
    https://twitter.com/JoshKovensky/status/1503745352071098385 10:50 AM · Mar 15, 2022

  7. Peterr says:

    The UN Food and Agriculture Organizations put out an indepth fact sheet the other day, with a dire outlook going forward. From the executive summary:

    In 2021, either the Russia Federation or Ukraine (or both) ranked amongst the top three global exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil, while the Russian Federation also stood as the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizers and the second leading supplier of both potassic and phosphorous fertilizers. . . .

    That last line is huge, and it is already hitting US farmers hard with fertilizer prices going up fast. Financially, farmers I know are happy to see their prices rise, but the increased costs for their inputs (fuel, fertilizer, seeds, etc.) are going up at least as fast.

    And these are first world farmers. God help farmers in the developing world. Speaking of which . . .

    Many countries that are highly dependent on imported foodstuffs and fertilizers, including several that fall into the Least Developed Country (LDC) and Low-Income Food-Deficit Country (LIFDC) groups, rely on Ukrainian and Russian food supplies to meet their consumption needs. Many of these countries, already prior to the conflict, had been grappling with the negative effects of high international food and fertilizer prices.

    That’s not going to get any better any time soon. . . .

    In Ukraine, the recent escalation of conflict has already led to port closures, the suspension of oilseeds crushing operations and the introduction of export licensing requirements for some crops, all of which could take a toll on the country’s exports of grains and vegetable oils in the months ahead. It also uncertain whether Ukraine will be able to harvest its crops during protracted conflict. Much uncertainty also surrounds Russian export prospects going forward, given sales difficulties that may arise as a result of economic sanctions imposed on the country.

    So what does the FAO expect? Nothing good:

    Although early production prospects for 2022/23 winter crops are favourable in both Ukraine and the Russian Federation, in Ukraine, the conflict may prevent farmers from attending to their fields, harvesting and marketing of their crops, while disruptions to essential public services could also negatively affect agricultural activities.
    • FAO’s preliminary assessment suggests that, as a result of the conflict, between 20 and 30 percent of the areas under winter cereals, maize and sunflower seed in Ukraine will either not be planted or remain unharvested during the 2022/23 season, with the yields of these crops also likely to be adversely affected.
    • In the case of the Russian Federation, although no major disruption to crops already in the ground appears imminent, uncertainties exist over the impact that the international sanctions imposed on the country will have on food exports. Over the medium term, the loss of export markets that they may entail could depress farmer incomes, thereby negatively affecting future production decisions.

    That’s inside Ukraine and Russia. Then there’s the need to feed the millions of refugees in Europe, which is no small task. But beyond that, the FAO points to the largest problem of all:

    Globally, if the conflict results in a sudden and prolonged reduction in food exports by Ukraine and the Russian Federation, it could exert additional upward pressure on international food commodity prices to the detriment of economically vulnerable countries, in particular. FAO’s simulations suggest that under such a scenario, the global number of undernourished people could increase by 8 to 13 million people in 2022/23, with the most pronounced increases taking place in Asia-Pacific, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, and the Near East and North Africa.

    Go read the whole thing, for an look at all the moving parts here. It’s not just the wheat, but all kinds of other crops as well, along with infrastructure damage and all the rest of the agricultural production processes. This is not a Ukrainian problem alone, nor a NATO/European problem. The world is going to suffer dramatically.

      • russell penner says:

        It’s hard to believe so many well educated people get this wrong. Extracting ethanol doesn’t significantly reduce the feed value of cereal grain, it is still marketed and fed as dried distillers grain (DDG) instead of as raw product.Want to make a significant difference in the world grain supply? Quit eating grain fed beef and pork. Quit fertilizing that lush green lawn outside your window, and grow veggies instead.

        • Rayne says:

          It’s the fertilizer, tilling, herbicides used on ethanol crops which are problematic. Why use petroleum to make more fuel?

          If we’re going to be massively short on food for humans, petroleum should be used to grow food, not merely converted rather inefficiently into another form of carbon.

          • russell penner says:

            Ok,let’s try this again. The grain is going to be grown, as long as there is demand from feedlots and hog finishing operations. The ethanol is only a byproduct extracted enroute. How do I know this? From years spent hauling grain in,and DDG out, of ethanol plants. Why is that so difficult understand? Grain is never grown exclusively for ethanol production.

            • Rayne says:

              Which came first, chicken or the egg? That’s more or less what we’re arguing, whether ethanol is there because DDG is needed by meat producers because of demand for meat, or if meat producers are chasing DDG because they are chasing demand.

              Beef and pork producers have had reasons for demanding higher protein (lower carb) feed *in tandem* with demands for alternative fuels. Part of that meat-side ask is for lower fat, more efficient animal protein trying to respond to consumers who want leaner meat. But beef and pork consumption has been flat to falling for years. Why should we give preference to these commodities when the world will be short grain for human consumption?

              Especially when demand for non-meat protein is increasing rapidly?

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              “I drove bulk cargo around for years, which makes me an expert on sugar/grain production.” You’ll appreciate how your logic makes your comment sound trollish.

              Ethanol production is not just a function of the available raw materials and manufacturing processes. It’s a function of competing uses for those materials and for the ethanol, of market priorities, and of government policies, including significant tax subsidies. Not to mention, capacity limitations during famine or drought.

              As you suggest, it’s the difference between making vodka in ordinary times, hand sanitizer during a pandemic, or fuel for Molotovs during a Russian invasion.

          • P J Evans says:

            I remember reading at the Oil Drum (RIP) that petroleum products on farms should be for the big equipment like harvesters, and lubricants as needed.

      • Pete T says:

        Gas…thanks for triggering me as follows:

        1) Pump prices rose early in part due to fear of rising crude oil prices – which it turns out did happen though one could question the reaction was outsized.

        2) The headline at CNBC for a day or so is market(s) are up big due to plunging oil prices (OK – the headline writers at CNBC have their heads up their asses, but still…)

        3) So now we wait for the record profit reports from the energy sector, because that’s the playbook over, and over, and over.


    • klynn says:

      Here is the FAO’s latest rapid response forecast:


      Opening statement:

      “FAO requires USD 50 million over the
      next three months to urgently assist up to 240,000 of the most vulnerable rural men and women (over 100 000 households), including internally displaced people (IDPs) affected by the crisis. The response plan sets out key emergency agricultural interventions and immediate cash transfers to help sustain lives and agricultural livelihoods amid the escalating nationwide crisis. Depending on the local conditions, vulnerable households may receive cash, agricultural inputs or cash plus agricultural inputs.”

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    So, Russia fucks up the global food supply, while China responds to a Covid threat by quarantining Shenzhen – the world’s leading producer of electronics and many other goods.

    In a few weeks, Putin has created the global chaos he used Trump to create in the US, and through it, its allies. That has to threaten or alienate virtually every leader in the world. Pretty soon, they’re going to reconsider how much Putin’s nuclear weapons restricts their ability to respond to his apparent irrational and fanatical aggression.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      And Russia promises to go all Stalin on Germany after WWII and denude Ukraine of its forests, “greenery,” and presumably any other moveable resource – as reparations to Russia – turning Ukraine into a desert. (He would do the same to its civil society.)

      That would be a catastrophe for Ukraine, requiring generations to recover from it. It would permanently affect the world’s food chain – and environment – causing immediate and long-term havoc.

      Putin seems to be working hard to threaten and alienate as much of the world as possible. That’s beginning to look like a very ugly cul-de-sac.

      • Pete T says:

        At some point Putin’s nuclear “bluff” is going to have to be called. It won’t be easy. But his havoc will be generational to recover from soon even if someone in the Kremlin treats him like Rasputin.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Kasper Gutman to Sam Spade:

          “That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. ‘Cause as you know, sir, in the heat of action, men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.”

  9. BobCon says:

    MRE-style rations also represent manufacturing capability, plus materials like plastic to package and containers for the distribution networks.

    It’s not advanced capability, either, and that has obvious implications about Russia’s capacity to replace rifle ammunition, boots, and other basic items, let alone the highly specialized manufactured items.

    It’s always possible Russian stockpiles of MREs were unusually low and manufacturing capacity in other areas like ammunition is robust. But it does suggest they have some critical shortfalls looming.

  10. john paul jones says:

    This is probably dreaming on my part, but perhaps Canadian and US farmers could be encouraged to plant more wheat this spring to try and ease the anticipated shortfall. I’ve seen no indication from either country that this is being considered. Plus, it still wouldn’t alleviate bottlenecks in the distribution system. Might be worth a try.

    • Peterr says:

      They have problems of their own right now. In addition to the higher cost of fuel and fertilizer, there’s a serious drought in the US wheat producing areas. From Reuters via AgWeb yesterday:

      A worsening drought in the southern U.S. Plains is threatening the region’s winter wheat crop just as the Russian invasion of Ukraine dents global supplies.

      Some farmers in southwestern Kansas, the top U.S. wheat producing state, have not received much measurable rain or snow since October. Winter wheat is planted in autumn, lays dormant in winter and begins sending up green shoots in spring. Proper soil moisture is critical at this stage for the crop to thrive.

      More than half of Kansas was classified as under severe drought or worse as of March 8, the driest conditions since 2018, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Severe drought is also covering three-quarters of Oklahoma and more than two-thirds of Texas, both of which also are large wheat producers.


      This is the second straight U.S. wheat crop stalked by drought. The 2021 harvest of spring wheat, which typically is planted between March and May, also was crimped by dry conditions.

      As of March 6, just 24% of Kansas’ wheat crop was in good condition or better, while 39% was rated poor to very poor, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is the lowest rating for this point of the season in four years, the agency’s data shows.

      • P J Evans says:

        Drought may not improve soon, either. It’s climate change, guys.

        In west Texas, they graze cattle in the fields planted to winter wheat. Doesn’t hurt the wheat, apparently.

        • Sprocket says:

          Wheat is spring pasture for cattle in western Kansas sometimes, too. Pretty amazing. It does set the wheat back, but it’s worth it. Or at least it used to be. I’m out of touch with that.

      • scribe says:

        I was just going to say a relative and I were talking the other night and he related what a dry winter they’ve had in the High Plains, where he lives.

        We live in interesting times.

      • earthworm says:

        Re that drought, also increasingly referred to as the Neo-Dustbowl:
        moisture flows, atmospheric rivers, that originate in the Matto Grosso are severely affected by deforestation there. The central part of the US, our breadbasket, is experiencing drought caused by destruction of forests thousands of miles distant.

      • Nord Dakota says:

        My brother farms in NW Minnesota, and last summer I saw what crops looked like–there was drought ranging to severe across most of the state last summer (Boundary Waters was closed for a stretch due to wildfires, and the areas just south–where I grew up–had fires breaking out constantly). I was shocked when I drove up this summer to see wheat fields less than 18 inches tall. My brother (wheat, corn, soybeans, and he does raise cattle) said the wheat headed out by June 6 for the first time ever (he’ll be 64 in May). Surprisingly, the yield was very good, because of good initial moisture. And La Nina brought quite a bit of snow this winter, but he had also told me as well there had been no rain in Kansas.

        As for the ethanol and DDG–all kinds of things turn into feed (like chicken feather meal!). My brother also works at a sugar refinery (beet sugar) and gets beet pulp (used to be free, now they charge).

        There’s an old story about a Manitoba farmer who got fish processing waste from a plant in Winnepeg to feed his pigs. But he could never sell them to the same buyer twice because they tasted like fish. A neighbor whose grain dryer burned some corn gave it to his cattle, and said the meat tasted like burnt popcorn.

      • Cinco says:

        l was amazed to learn the top 5 wheat producing states
        1) N Dakota
        2 Kansas
        4) Washington
        5) Idaho

        • P J Evans says:

          Idaho has some flat land. The rest don’t surprise me – the east half of Montana is pretty much like ND.

      • ANOther says:

        In the eastern Canadian prairies we have more snow than I have seen in the last 15 years. Moderate to major flooding is forecast along the Red River.

        • Nord Dakota says:

          The Red is 10 blocks from my house, but my street has never flooded. But I had almost 3 feet of settled snow in my front yard on Sunday, and by yesterday evening half the yard was bare. It takes awhile for that wet stuff to make its way across the flats to the river, but they’re filling sandbags I’ve heard. I’m sure you know about the ice dams (to the less informed, the Red flows north to the Hudson, which means the meltwater is heading towards an ice cover, which then creates ice dams)

    • Sprocket says:

      Wheat of all types has been short this year and prices high, so I’m sure planted acres will go up for the 2022 crop. Winter wheat was planted last fall and is up a fair amount, but not dramatically so. Have not seen spring wheat planting intentions, but spring wheat is very short and pricey, so I’m guessing a lot of acres of it will be planted. But neither of these are plantings that would take up the slack of losing the Ukrainian and Russian crops.

      It is kind of dry here in Kansas, but wheat is pretty drought tolerant and winter wheat is grown so widely around the country, that it takes a really bad year in a lot of areas to create an actual bad total winter wheat crop. It’s rare. Spring wheat is more vulnerable to weather, especially with climate change, and it’s not even in the ground yet, so there’s no telling about that. But it is too early to make dire forecasts about the winter crop, imo.

      Upshot for me is that even if we get decent spring and winter wheat crops in N. America, wheat will be short and expensive, and who knows what will be there for humanitarian uses.

  11. KathyS says:

    I have 2 ideas how to mitigate the climate change and the food scarcity: 1. In areas with droughts sorghum grows well, it is drought resistant, there are varieties used by humans as food, and varieties for fodder. It is nutritionally good food. US grows sorghum. In Europe Germany works on replacing maize with sorghum, and is offering good varieties as seeds. Australia also grows sorghum and has it’s own varieties. A cooperation between EU, Australia and US on growing sorghum and seeds exchange can help. The war in Ukraine is already a climate catastrophe regionally, deforestation would be a disaster. 2. There’s an overproduction of clothes. Overproduction of clothes and “fast fashion” is the second largest reason for pollution and CO2 after the fuels.. Wool is not used, mostly it is thrown in garbage pits. Wool must be washed and used, it’s eco friendly and good to the skin. It’s a precious material, when handled with care it needs less frequent washing. A solution is this and next year farmers to replace cotton with sorghum.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Might work in parts of Europe, ironically, the eastern parts. But the US market is dominated by monopoly seed and chemical companies, who virtually dictate what’s planted, as other monopolists control the egg and poultry business. Farmers become virtual franchisees, subject to detailed regulations. The cost of getting out of such arrangements is steep. When they do, farmers find their access to markets is heavily curtailed.

    • Rayne says:

      None of what you’re discussing here can fend off what is about to happen over the next 6-12 months. Farmers are already committed to crops this year which they are familiar with growing and for which they have capital equipment.

      Second, you’re expecting a cultural change, for people to drop wheat and maize both as producers and consumers for sorghum when a percentage of the population is resistant to wearing masks, social distancing, and vaccinations to end a pandemic. They won’t change their food habits inside 6-12 months.

      Agree that “fast fashion” must be dealt with, but switching fibers from cotton to wool isn’t an option (ex: many people are allergic to wool). It would be easier and faster to regulate disposal of all plastics including synthetic fibers like nylon, polyester and polypropylene; the industry must have a method for collection and recycling. None of this, though, will change the impending food insecurity crisis.

  12. earthworm says:

    hackneyed wisdom, but i want to point out that another aspect of this situation is the effect of a wildcard event, say another Krakatoa.
    Do these Pentagon/GRU games theory people throw one, or two, of those into their calculations?
    When we cut everything finer and finer, there is increased probability that something, once upon a time minor, goes wrong and is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    • Rayne says:

      It will not be as easy as simply changing over to Indian wheat though they appear to have ratcheted up production.

      Imagine meeting the global shortfall promptly with this kind of processing (photo circa 2017).
      Workers remove dust from wheat at a wholesale grain market in Chandigarh, India April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

      • WilliamOckham says:

        I was stunned to learn that the majority of Indian wheat is harvested by hand. Although, it appears that they’ve been producing more than they can consume for a while now and long-term wheat storage is Bronze Age technology, IIRC.

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah, kind of puts to lie the cute John Deere tractor TikTok in Taber’s thread. A family member did program management for a competing company which built a plant in India in the early 2000s; their manufacturing automation went in after plant construction. They were blown away by the manner in which concrete was delivered for the site’s slab on which their equipment rested — all in basket hods carried by women on top of their heads, for pay little more than pennies per hod.

          While I’m sure many things have updated and improved since then, in remote areas they are still not operating with late 20th century let alone early 21st century technology. Storage which is Bronze Age will surely have contamination issues western countries will not accept.

          ADDER: Good gravy. Loading flatbed trucks by hand. https://youtu.be/SVSJIG6C9gY

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