NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2007

Like the end of cheap energy, the era of cheap food may finally over, says Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution.

Why the sudden change?  There have been a number of relatively recent radical changes in the United States and the world that, taken together, provide the answer:

  • Modern high-tech farming is energy intensive; recent price increases in fertilizers and chemicals have been passed on to the consumer.
  • The sprawl of housing tracts, edge cities and shopping centers is gobbling up prime farmland at the rate of hundreds of thousands of acres per year.
  • Periodic droughts and competition from growing suburbs have made water for farming scarcer, more expensive and sometimes unavailable.
  • On the world scene, 2 billion Indians and Chinese are enjoying the greatest material improvement in their nations' histories -- and their improved diets mean more food consumed than ever before.

Now comes the biofuels movement, complicating matters more, says Hanson.  Consider:

The United States could very shortly be producing around 30 billion gallons of corn-based fuel per year, using one of every four acres planted to corn for fuel.

  • Corn prices in America have already spiked; and since corn is also a prime ingredient for animal feeds and sweeteners, prices likewise are rising for poultry, beef and everything from soft drinks to candy.
  • While corn is the main source for biofuel, land is also taken from wheat, soybeans and cotton, ensuring those supplies grow tight as well.

Unfortunately, since the high food prices seem coupled to energy shortages, they won't go away anytime soon.  That raises questions critical to the very security of this nation, which may have to import as many agricultural commodities as it does energy -- and find a way to pay for both.

Source: Victor David Hanson, "The Impending Food Fight,", June 28, 2007.


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