Thursday, April 14, 2011

Clothes on our back or fuel in our cars?

There has been a lot of discussion about whether you use the corn that you grow to make fuel, or food.

However, there is another discussion that I had not heard as much.  Do you grow corn at all?  In this case the question is whether you grow clothes or food.

Although many commodities took a recent hit because of panic over concerns that demand will collapse because of "bad stuff happening" he price of cotton is at an all time high, and farmers in the Southern United States have always had a relative advantage when growing it. However, hardier varieties now exist that allow it to be planted in areas further north than was previously viable:  such as the Texas panhandle.

The U.S. Government and the National Cotton Council have predicted an increase over last year of 14%.  Other countries are also increasing there forecasts.

So in the current world system, if there are people who can pay more for a product, and they are competing against a desperate person who needs it badly, but has insufficient resources:  the desperate will go hungry.

So if the United States needs oil, and someone else is willing to pay more for it, it will not matter that half of us cannot get to work because we are short on oil.  What oil that does get imported will go to those who can afford it.

I am not trying to make some sort of socialist redistribution argument here.  I am just trying to illustrate in very real and immediate terms the quandary that we may find ourselves in soon enough.  Even within the United States the geographic distribution of economic suffering is often very uneven.  As the rust-belt rusted, the sun-belt shone.

One part of sustainability is adaptability.  Within the United States and adaptability to the changes of fortune within economic sectors, and geographic areas has always been important.  It is likely to become even more so.

Which brings us to this New York Times piece on farmers growing cotton instead of corn.  I am looking at the NYT less because of the 20 views per month rule, but I saw this a few weeks ago.  Hat Tip nc

By William Neuman, New York Times, March 28, 2011.
[T]his spring, many farmers in southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat — spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply.

The result is an acreage war between rival commodities used to feed and clothe the world’s population.

“There’s a lot more money to be made in cotton right now,” said Ramon Vela, a farmer here in the Texas Panhandle, as he stood in a field where he grew wheat last year, its stubble now plowed under to make way for cotton. Around the first week of May, Mr. Vela, 37, will plant 1,100 acres of cotton, up from 210 acres a year ago. “The prices are the big thing,” he said. “That’s the driving force.”

Economists, agricultural experts and government officials are predicting that many farmers, both in the United States and abroad, will join Mr. Vela this year in chasing the higher profits to be made in cotton — with consequences that could ripple across the globe.

“It’s good for the farmer, but from a humanitarian perspective it’s kind of scary,” said Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. “Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they’re going to be even less able to afford it now.”

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