R.J. Ruppenthal  @  ChelseaGreen

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Food prices are set to explode, so start your garden now!

Posted on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 at 3:46 pm by R.J. Ruppenthal

I'm all for renewable energy, but we're facing a critical shortage of food in the coming years as the world's population continues to increase while there is less arable land, dramatically higher fertilizer prices, and shifting agricultural zones due to climate change. In this climate, it is madness to use our good land and fertilizer to grow corn for our gas tanks. I would rather see these giant tracts of agribusiness land divided up into smaller farms where real people can improve the soil and grow food (for themselves or the rest of us). Therefore, I am opposed to the ongoing ethanol subsidy being discussed in Congress, and I am in favor of smaller-scale, locally grown foods. The best local foods are the ones grown at home, and if you are not gardening on your patio, rooftop, walkway, doorstep or balcony (yes, you can grow food there), then now is a great time to get started. If it's too cold outside, then use this winter to read, learn, and plan so that you can hit the ground running and have a successful garden in the spring.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) just released a report in which they forecast that corn prices could double in the coming years with rice prices not far behind (increasing 31.2%) as rice starts to be substituted as animal feedstock, etc. The group mainly blames ethanol and climate change for the coming increases.

But I'm sorry to say that I disagree with this group's conclusions, because as far as I can see, they are not factoring in some much bigger sources of impact upon food prices: the coming peaks in the production of oil, phosphorus, copper, and a number of other commodities. A scarcity of one of these alone would drive food prices dramatically higher, but the fact that demand will shortly exceed supply for all of them is truly frightening. The entire economy and food web depends upon their affordability and availability, and we've done precious little to prepare or transition from this dependence.

Does anyone still believe that industrial-scale agriculture can weather these storms and keep food prices anywhere close to where they are now? Let me tell you, if grain prices in 2-3 years from now are only 2-3 times higher than now, that will have triggered food riots all over the world between now and then, but it will still be a bargain. This could get much worse, so get set for a bumpy ride. And grow or produce as much of your own food as you can, wherever you live, so you can save your pennies for whatever else cannot be obtained as easily or affordably. I always hope I'm wrong, but I believe the days of cheap food are nearly over.

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