War in Ukraine will cause enormous disruption to agriculture
Imagine driving down the highway when suddenly your Jeep loses the cloth bikini top
and it gets torn to shreds by the trailing18 wheeler.
In the midst of your confusion and discomfort of the sudden loud wind and terror of
losing part of the car, you pull off the road to assess the situation. As you exit your vehicle, a
truck passes, causing you to slam against the median. This pins your arm between asphalt and
a very heavy unknown force.
You wake in the hospital with no top to your Jeep, a sore shoulder, and the tragic news
of your newly amputated arm.
What a day.
The loss of your cloth top on your Jeep won’t kill you, you can still drive without a hitch,
though it will be uncomfortable for a while. It will take major adjustments to get used to the wind
in your hair, and bugs in your teeth. Your missing arm will hurt for a long time, and it will take a
lot of getting used to and retraining for your days and life to be normal.
Now, remove the image of your phantom arm and Jeep. As your read on, I want you
now to imagine you are still in the Jeep as we shift to the serious matter of Ukraine.
A large contributor to the global agriculture market faces a great loss with the war and
developing political climate. Ukraine, which places among the top five in many agricultural
exports, faces militant pressure from Russia that has the possibility of making all food, fiber, and
fuel a consumer nightmare. We are being invaded by discomfort and a huge learning curve.
Ukraine feeds more than 500 million people each year, according to Argo Center News.
Wait, let me say that again, 500,000,000 people. If every person that Ukraine farmers feed
yearly stood finger tip to finger tip they would circle the world nearly eight times. Ukraine ranks
in the top five in the world for beets, wheat, barley, sunflower, potatoes, rye — and has the most
arable land of any country in the world at 104 million acres.
Ukraine exports $5.3 billion of agricultural products each year, more than double the
Russian exports of $2.5 billion. The ongoing war in Ukraine means crops may not be harvested,
much less exported. Ukraine has an army of 215,000 and the government is not allowing men to
leave the country. They are being conscripted, what we know as a draft, and that means
farmers have left the producing fields for battlefields as the planting season arrives.
In comparison, Russia has just over one million active personnel and two million in reserves.
The number of soldiers towers over that of Ukraine.
By losing Ukrainian farmers to war, we lose the 2022 planting season, harvest, livestock
slaughter, and more. Many farms may not survive the income loss this year and will sell out. Or,
they may not be able to continue due to loss of life. There will be huge learning obstacles to
overcome by Ukrainian farmers, families, and consumers over the next year or more.
What does this mean for U.S. farmers? According to the United State Trade
Representative, this country in 2019 exported $10.3 billion in agriculture to the European Union.
If there is a fall in production from farmers due to external factors, U.S. farmers may see an
opportunity for larger exports, new international trade contracts, higher prices, and more money.
There may not be opportunity for small scale farmers, however, because the market will
favor those who are larger scale, vertically integrated, larger scale and familiar with market and
international trade partners. Those will have the best opportunity to raise prices as supply falls.
An additional obstacle everyone will face will be the rising cost of fertilizers. In 2020 and
2021, the price of fertilizer nearly quadrupled, says Tom Vilisack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Those price increases were caused by shortages of natural gas, and limited fertilizer stockpiles.
This year, as Russia fights Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced sanctions against
Russia that will target its financial system. The U.S. will halt technology exports to Russia,
though it is unclear how Russia will retaliate. Vilisack says that Russia is a major global supplier
of fertilizers and hopefully a drop off will not impact the U.S. harvest this year.
Vilisack encourages U.S. farmers to look at their capacities domestically, and become less
reliant on outside forces.
No matter the length of the invasion and the outcome, it will affect everyone. There will
be huge social and economic impacts to overcome and we need to look internally before we rely
Farmers and ranchers, as you go to bed tonight, put your boots far under your bed. That will
force you to your knees. While you are there, say a prayer.