The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

US Corn Crop Failure

The weather catastrophe in the central United States had led to corn not being planted by the deadline. This is a serious problem. When you miss the deadline of May 20th, there’s little point in planting at all.

Viewed another way:

Corn is not a major food crop for Americans. It is, however, a major food crop for animals and is widely used (as fructose) in processed food.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

Corn futures prices are already soaring. Expect that food prices in the fall and winter will be higher because of this.

The simplest initial scenario for events going Fubar due to climate change is actually a problem with food production. This situation isn’t big enough to be the trigger that sends everything spinning, but imagine a much larger crop failure (my go-to being monsoon failure), and world food prices spiking massively. Even if there is enough food, in theory, to feed everyone, many people won’t be able to afford it, and many places will have shortages.

This isn’t that event, but it is a harbinger. As my friend Stirling Newberry pointed out back in the 90s, the first result of climate change is more and worse extreme weather events.

In the meantime, please bear this particular spike in mind, as it’ll likely hit supermarkets this fall and winter.


Oncoming Recession and the Chinese/US Trade War


The Terrible Ethical Calculus of Catastrophe


  1. Seedee Vee

    \”Corn is not a major food crop for humans\”

    What defines \”major food crop\”?

    What do you think tortillas are made of?

    Are Mexicans not human?


    This is instructive & pertinent. It indicates they don’t have the capacity to make up for the lost days. It’s a bust. Consolidation & cost-cutting removed the margins for error. Maybe Trump can put the lazy white nationalists to work in the fields when and if they can plant again to make up for the shortfall since they begrudge the migrant workers taking all of their jobs. Wouldn’t that be a sight? Richard Spencer & friends sowing corn to the beat & Rhythm of Wagner.

    Corn: Here We Go Again – How Long to Plant the U.S. Crop?

    Conventional wisdom suggests that the U.S. corn crop can be planted in a relatively small number of days, perhaps as few as five suitable field days. This thinking is spurred on by the large size of modern planters that can obviously plant many more acres than the smaller planters of the past.

    However, our analysis last year showed that the conventional wisdom is not borne out by historical data on planting progress for three states in the heart of the U.S. Corn Belt—Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa. We found a striking stability and similarity in the minimum number of days required to plant the corn crop in the three states over 1980-2017.

    While there is some variation in these estimates over time, on average, producers in Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa need about 14 suitable field days, or two weeks, to plant the corn crop based on maximum daily rates of planting progress, and this has changed little since 1980.

    Essentially, fewer bigger planters today plant about the same rate in aggregate as more smaller planters did in the past.

  3. Ian Welsh

    Didn’t consider Mexican food, since it’s an American crop failure. Edited to correct. Apologies.

  4. ponderer

    There is always someone who manages to make a PC point into a racist comment. Corn is the traditional diet of many people (Central America), not just for tortillas. Mexicans generally don’t grow their corn in the American Midwest. They grow their own food corn but import the animal feed varieties. “Mexico” isn’t the biggest consumer or producer of corn.

    Food prices world wide will likely increase. Ian is right about that. Especially as this will be seen as an excuse to increase profits, much like ME trouble does for Oil. That is, outside of supply concerns we’re likely to see increases.

    Anyone who imagines “lazy white Nationalists” planting corn like a prison gang should probably leave their entitled comfy suburb and drive into the country for a bit. Stop in a tractor supply store or coop and ask a farmer how its done. Note, you don’t need a hoe in one hand and a bag of see in the other. Those days are long gone. You might even find out what those “job stealing migrants” are doing aside from being nearly slave labor building your McMansion. Heaven forbid you should talk to instead of about them.

  5. bruce wilder

    paradoxically, this may well turn out to be good news financially for farmers, particularly those situated on higher ground or at the figurative periphery of the most affected areas. some will collect prevented-planting insurance to offset their losses; most will plant late and realize lower yields at higher prices.

    what will go unexamined unfortunately is the temptation farmers face to marginally increase the intensification of their efforts in these circumstances, when they expect high prices to make low yields profitable, but at the risk of eroding the productivity of the land in the very long-run.

    overall, American farming is in deep economic trouble, because Depression-era programs to stabilize prices and redress the balance-of-economic power vis-a-vis food processors have been quietly phased out or converted into corporate subsidy machines. the other Depression-era programs that organized the prevention of soil loss as well as the 1960s era policies that tried to retard the loss of wetlands have also faded or been disarmed legally and financially.

    the risk of famine from increased volatility of weather in the long-run pales by comparison to the risk of long-term loss of fertility due to unconstrained intensification of agriculture. we need to invest in soil fertility and water retention.

    instead of pursuing the public good with public institutions, in our neoliberal era, we have turned over control to private businesses, where scale and “intellectual property” are pursued way past the point of diseconomy, because scale tends to concentrate economic power and rewards in the hands of executives at the center of administration in networked systems. meanwhile, the kind of public structures that would enable farming and food processing at appropriate scales to be coordinated with feedback and informed constraints is neglected or surrendered to the Monsantos of this benighted world.

    this failure to manage ourselves at scale is what is driving climate change and its worst consequences

  6. ponderer


    I didn’t think that fertility was a problem in developed countries. Except fertilizer importing may not be sustainable. Agree on the general trouble though. GMO and chemical contamination combined with regulatory capture are a major threat.

  7. bruce wilder

    in the abstract, i suppose the problem is some combination of congestion costs, depletion, and waste build up.

    “congestion costs” are my awkward label for the self defeating potentials of many uncoordinated farmers (or fisherman or hunters or pastoralists) tempted to compensate for declining yields from a natural system by intensifying their methods and resource use. at base, “congestion” is overpopulation.

    the characteristic human failure to coordinate politically well-enough to constrain ourselves from vainly trying to get out of whatever hole we find ourselves in by digging deeper deserves a more colorful name

    the extremely rapid pace of technical change driven by scientific advance has not solved this problem; if anything, it just compounds it. we know what we are doing is hazardous and self-destructive, but we seem better able to respond by trying some fix with additional hazards of its own than simply accepting the need for self-constraint and conservation

  8. sbt

    Does anyone think the growing season might also be extended (due to climate disruption) to somewhat mitigate a late planting date?

    Or is this still a concern regardless of an extended growing season, since unprecedented severe weather events can undo the planting that’s done?

  9. peon

    Over the last 50-75 years we have gone from relatively small farm acreage 100-300 acre farms to large 1000+ farms. The equipment has scaled up as well. When you got a wet spring like we are having in the past many smaller farmers could all maximize the same small window to plant. When you have 1000s of acres to plant and you only get a small window you just don’t have the time.
    Also the equipment is larger and heavier which is a disadvantage in a wet year.
    US agricultural policy has made us very food insecure. By concentrating livestock production, grain production, fruit and vegetable production we have created a system that is precarious.
    Like off-shoring manufacturing, privatizing public schools, the “get big or get out” ag policy creates a hole hard to climb out of. You lose infrastructure. You lose skilled workers. You lose the next generation who learn from their parents. Not to mention the collapse of feed mills, hardware stores, farm supply stores, farm equipment dealers all over rural America.
    Unfortunately this is and continues to be economic policy in the USA. No one is going to do anything about it until calamity is staring us in the face. Even then I do not see any quick, painless turn around possibility.

  10. StewartM

    @Bruce Wilder

    the risk of famine from increased volatility of weather in the long-run pales by comparison to the risk of long-term loss of fertility due to unconstrained intensification of agriculture. we need to invest in soil fertility and water retention.

    As I mentioned, I had a libertarian friend in college who was sane enough to drop the ideology when it came to farming–food (and water) isn’t a rholex watch or an Iphone. Famines have been the bane and yet the norm of most derived cultures, and we’d be foolish to think that we’re over all that now.

    Go back to the days of leaving land fallow and paying the farmers for doing that. Pay also for surplus production to mitigate crop failures when they happen. Rely more on rainfall and less on irrigation and aquifer water (we have so much good farmland in the east that has ample rainfall that gets paved over). “Efficiency” shouldn’t be the goal here, sustainability and buffering is.

  11. Nell

    @sbt: Fall chill and frost date being pushed back by climate warming enough to compensate for late planting could happen in some parts of the affected acreage. But those areas have to start drying up immediately *and* as you guess avoid further severe events (e.g., extreme heat that established corn plants can tolerate but that young plants cannot, due to shallower roots and thinner foliage tissue). Considering the vast scale and geographic spread of this year\’s unplanted area, a longer growing season seems unlikely to save more than a small part of the crop.

  12. edwin

    Sbt: A quick check confirms that corn is day length neutral. So in theory – yes you could make use of extended season.

    S0me immediate concerns would be moulds as the fall has higher humidity, inability to harvest because the ground is too wet, and cold spells. Corn is a heat lover. 10 C (50F) seems to be the base temperature. My guess is that commercial corn has been optimized at the expense of flexibility. I bet that extended growing just isn’t likely to be hot enough to make much difference. While 10 C will keep it alive, your level of growth is going to be zero. 15 C probably won’t be enough to make any difference. When your soil cools down that’s it. Weeks of cool weather will not equal days of hot weather for growth.

    There are cold weather corn varieties, including one that can be planted a month before last frost. (developed by a guy in Utah.) There are also short season varieties that would have plenty of time to grow and then some. You have to get new seed, in quantities necessary for your farm, and your yields will not be enough to pay the bills. Mainstream commercial value is limited.

    As a gardener, I have found the fall to be far less flexible in planting than the spring. In theory we can grow a variety of peas. In practice, it usually fails. Frost kills blossoms and moulds become a problem. There are things that can be done both extending harvest and planting in the fall. Crops like carrots, lettuce, spinach can make use of an Indian summer, and even overwinter in southern Canada for example. Tropical ones, such as corn or sweet potatoes aren’t among them. The season just does not extend in the same way for tropical plants. The heat units are not there – even with late frosts. I don’t know if this directly applies to corn growing areas of the US.

  13. different clue


    The only guy I know of in Utah is a small-farmer/ seed breeder-seller named Joseph Lofthouse. Here is the link to his 2019 Seed List. Could one of these corns be the corn you mention?

    Corporate petrochemical agribussiness in America is understaffed and overmechanised. It will be interesting to see how human-food-grade corn-growers outside the Core of the Corn Belt will do this year. I don’t know what the rain picture is in their area.

    We have been having a lot of rain here in South East Michigan but nothing like further west and south. Still and all, I have yet to plant my Hickory Cane corn this year. I promise I will get to it soon. If any of it can produce mature viable-seed ears by deep-chill killfrost, that will be another year of Darwinian selection for it.


    I am not sure your view of Mexico’s ongoing ability to grow its own corn is still correct. My understanding is that several million small-to-tiny-scale corn growers in Mexico were put out of bussiness under a flood of petro-corporate GMO shitcorn from the Midwest Corn Belt, exactly as intended right from the start by NAFTA. For which Canada’s own Brian Mulroney and Mexico’s own Carlos Salinas de Gortari deserve just as m;uch thanks as America’s own Ronald Reagan.

    And Slicky Bill Clinton deserves extra special thanks for finally getting NAFTA passed. Thank you, Mister Bill.

  14. borderdenizen

    @bruce wilder
    The high prices are not locked in as a benefit to the individual farmer, even with higher prices. If wet weather continues, especially near the fall harvest, the smaller farmers could be dinged with a huge natural gas charge. The farmer is responsible for the corn to be at a certain moisture percentage to deliver to the elevator. If the wet conditions continue, the corn will need to be put through the corn drier, which is powered by natural gas, multiple times. So, I suspect that shenanigans in the ME and the late summer rain will determine who gets the cash. I also suspect that with the acreage that is out of production because it is too muddy to plant, the profits will even out to be flat at any price. Another cost that will be incurred by the farmers due to the cruddy whether: specialized equipment to plant and cultivate in muddy conditions and re-tiling the drainage paths that were wrecked by the excess moisture. The real take home of the crappy conditions will be the continued consolidation of mega farms. Even with crop insurance, I suspect a lot of the older dudes will just give up due to the hardship.

    As a side note, the individual lessees of the parcels that the large concerns farm will not get any extra payments. Just more money to the top of the pyramid.

    And as another side note, warship Native Seeds/SEARCH:

  15. someofparts

    Does the name Nero mean anything in the language of your people?

  16. As per a personal email from some dude in Iowa, there may be shenanigans in published results of % planting completed (and it’s suggested that it’s worse than it seems). Also, “wet planting” will be done by some to get government $$ for crops that are sure to fail.

    See 6:28 into

  17. Tom

    Well if this collapses, we will have a banking crisis again. Given the loopholes in Insurance Claims that allow them to give people the run around, hence the need for Lawyers to force them to pay, its gonna get ugly.

  18. MojaveWolf

    As you say in your essay on ethics, sometimes very basic, “it should go without saying” stuff needs to be said. This post is one of those things. Hopefully people will get it’s primary and important point and not be entirely lost in semantic quibbles (I too was surprised to hear corn wasn’t a big deal in America, but seriously, not the important point here).

    Probably unimportant anecdote some of the comments above brought to mind,
    Re: who does what farming where: FWIW:

    I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandfather was primarily a coal miner and hauler, but we also farmed a few acres, and corn was the main thing he planted (he did most of the farming himself; the only others who helped were my Mom and I). Also watermelon, plums, and Christmas trees. After he passed away when I was 11 the crop growing stopped, though the plants kept growing and we kept eating them for ourselves for quite a long while. The corn and watermelon eventually got crowded out but the plums never went away. We kept up the Christmas tree sales as sort of a yearly tradition until I graduated high school. At least back then, not everything was Monsanto or corporate.

    I’m not sure this has any relevant meaning to much of anything, but I am thankful for the reminder of a time in my life I had mostly forgotten.

  19. Tom———0——————18—–

    Its sad it even had to come to this. Chances are this likely won’t work cottage style and dosages will be screwed up, but if the Government won’t crack down on Insulin Makers and make examples of them as well as end IP laws which hinder development, what real choice is there?

  20. ponderer

    @different clue

    The numbers in the link I gave were recent. If I remember correctly they broke out feed corn as imports from sweet corn for food. They also claimed recent upticks in planting. The reality is that if prices increase here, it will probably affect them as well. It also lists other countries that could make up the production though. Some of our uses of corn high fructose corn syrup and ethanol come to mind, could be reduced and we would probably be better off for it. I think my point that there will not be a “significant” impact on Mexicans stands, at least without external influences.
    We do have to remember the Great Potatoe Famine was mostly a result of selling off produce to get higher returns not that there wasn’t enough to feed the people. A million still starved anyway.

  21. different clue


    I will look closer into that link about Mexicorn.

    @mojave wolf,

    Do you remember a variety name for this corn your grandfather grew? Would any old or hobby-gardening relatives still remaining in the ancestral coal lands be keeping any of this corn seed?

  22. different clue

    A post about corn seems a halfway okay place to bring some information about GMOs and glyphosate because so much corn was GMOed specifically to be Roundup tolerant. Most of the corn which will not be planted because of all this rain is corporate GMO shitcorn anyway, so those readers who already had/have access to No GMO FrankenFree shinola corn don’t have to be worried about the loss of chemical GMO shitcorn, except as a sign of things to come.

    I found a comment in a recent NaCap post on the Bayer Monsanto Cancer lawsuits that I decided to bring it here. It reveals the Clinton Administration position on Roundup and GMOs. (It will probably be too painful for any Clintonites reading these threads to read it. So, if a Clintonite is reading these comments, don’t read THIS one. You will be triggered. Better to go back to your safe space.)

    . . . are they gone? Did the Clintonites all leave? Are we alone now? good. Here is the comment.


    May 31, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    Andrew Coburn’s article in Harpers in 2015 reviews Gore’s role, key statement below is missing footnote 2 in online article.

    While Monsanto played God during the 1990s, the Clinton Administration had its back — a policy consistent with its corporate-friendly approach to environmental issues. When, for example, the French balked at allowing GMO corn into their country, the president, the secretary of state, the national-security adviser, and assorted U.S. senators pleaded Monsanto’s cause. (The French finally caved when Gore himself phoned the prime minister to lobby on the corporation’s behalf.)2 In addition, Washington’s revolving door whirled many Clinton Administration officials onto the Monsanto payroll, while the president’s committee of science and technology advisers included Virginia Weldon, the corporation’s senior vice president for public policy.

    as for HIllary, Monsanto was client of Rose law firm in Arkansas when Hillary was partner there
    she has never stopped being their advocate

    Yet despite all of these problems, the US State Department has been essentially acting as a de facto global-marketing arm of the ag-biotech industry, complete with figures as high-ranking as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mouthing industry talking points as if they were gospel, a new Food & Water Watch analysis of internal documents finds.


    And here is the link to the Monsanto Bayer Roundup Cancer lawsuits post it came from.

  23. different clue

    It looks like states at the edge of the corn belt have planted half or barely more than half of what they got planted by this time last year for corn.

    Whereas it looks like the states at the heart and core-center of the corn belt have planted this year less or way-less than half of the corn land as against what they had planted by this time last year.

  24. MojaveWolf

    @DifferentClue — so sorry, I feel like a horrible uncaring ungrateful disloyal unappreciative brat for not remembering these things, or even remembering if I knew them at the time, but I couldn’t tell you variety for either corn or watermelon/plums. We also had wild strawberries and wild onion by the bushel, and blackberries and blueberries, also growing wild I think, which I had forgotten about. Oh, I think we had peaches too. But my memories are really hazy on this, so maybe not. My mom passed away daybreak the day after Christmas a couple of years ago, and she was the last person I kept in touch with back home; even if I had kept in touch no one else in the family farmed at all or would remember varieties except my long-deceased great grandparents, who didn’t really farm but kept cattle and Shetland ponies. I used to climb the fence and hang out with the ponies and cows when I was staying or visiting there. (yes, I would wander amongst the cows talking to and petting and sometimes feeding them, and even follow them between pastures and to watering holes; made friends w/some as well as all three of the ponies)

    Sorry for not being more helpful. My reminiscence brought back some nice memories for me but I don’t think I can contribute any practical value to anyone else.

  25. MojaveWolf

    Also @different clue — somewhat relevant to your non-gmo search–when I first moved to Cali from Alabama I was *amazed* at how great all the fruit looked and bought tons, overjoyed. Then I bit into the fruit.

    The non-gmo stuff didn’t *look* as good, but omg it was SO. MUCH. BETTER. Tasting, for certain, and probably for you. And it took years to get overgrown even after we quit tending it.

    You could maybe search what types of corn were most commonly grown by small or subsistance farmers in NW or Northern or North-central Alabama back in the 60’s-70’s (I am old; my grandfather/father passed away in ‘December ’76 from a black-lung induced heart attack, though he went while he was out hunting and fishing; he always said when told to slow down due to illness, he was just going to go until he dropped and if he died so be it; he told his friend one fine winter’s morning that he felt cold and was going back to the pick up to get some coffee and warm up, and when he didn’t return his friend found him slumped over behind the steering wheel with the engine and heater running; looked like he’d poured himself a cup of coffee from his thermos and then fallen asleep; can’t think of a better way to go, out in nature doing what you love)

  26. different clue

    @ Mojave Wolf,

    There is nothing to feel ungrateful-bratlike about. It takes a certain kind of obsessive-for-details brain to remember things like that.

    I am guessing that your ancestral family was living in the southernmost Appalachians part of Alabama . . . Alabamappalachia, if one will . But that is just a guess.

    I had never heard of coal mining in Alabama. Is that where your grandfather mined coal at? Or did he do his mining further north in the Core Coalfields of Appalachia?

    One favored kind of corn in the Mountains was/is called Hickory Cane. A slightly modernized re-refined re-selected version of it is called Hickory King. They are two different kinds of corn by now. What I am fitfully growing here in Michigan is the Hickory Cane I believe.

    I believe the GMO conspirators have not yet degraded many fruits, especially not yet many tree fruits. So the difference you tasted could still be the older difference between Corporate PetroChemical fruits and the more hand-grown, less chemo-treated fruits. I still remember the Farmers Market in Knoxville, Tennessee from when I lived there decades ago. It was held in a huge former tobacco warehouse. Farmers came in from right around there, of course, but also from Georgia and a few from South Carolina at certain times.

    Wouldn’t it be neat if West Virginia were to change its official State Name to Appalachia? And the State of Appalachia could then invite all the neighboring Appalachian counties in neighboring States to join the New State of Appalachia. Perhaps a huge and culturally coherent State of Appalachia stretching from Alabama ( and maybe even a corner of Mississippi) to Pennsylvania could emerge in the Eastern Core of the Continent. Its State Motto could be:

    Welcome to Appalachia, America’s Tibet.

  27. MojaveWolf

    @DC — Coal mining was the main industry of the county where I grew up (and corn was the main legal cash crop, and supposedly pot was actually the biggest cash crop, which makes sense, there was plenty, and supposedly we were a prime recruiting area for hit men, tho I’ve always thought that was a local legend that occasionally went national when something weird happened, which was often enough–my tiny little hometown was very Twin Peaks-ish in both the surface apple pie and the occasional surfacing of the other stuff, bodies showing up in refrigerators in greenhouses, car bombs blowing up someone supposedly money-laundering, unsolved kidnappings for ransom where the perp killed himself w/out anyone ever finding the victim, etc); Alabama was home to one of the big four coal companies (Drummond) at one time, not sure about now.

    You grew up in Knoxville? That’s the city close to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, right? I used to pass through there a lot on the way to those latter two places. I was within a day’s drive of you!

    I love Appalachia, though if I had actually lived there (my hometown and surrounding environs was rolling hills, rivers, lakes, ponds and lots of small gorges and canyons if you went hiking through the woods, not quite in the foothills even) i would probably view it w/the sort of ambivalence I view my hometown–love it, hate it, lots of awesome things, lots of awful things, kind of glad I’m here rather than there. The desert libertarian conservatives I get along well with; the small town Alabama mind everyone else’s business as best they could people of whatever political stripe (tho overwhelmingly conservative, this bunch) annoyed the heck out of me and I’m pretty sure I would find the political environment there unpleasant now (hell, I would find a lot of lefty political environments unpleasant too, now I think on it, I think I’m in the right kind of place here; nice mix of different cultures and types and no one tries to be thought police in any direction).

    You’re probably right about the reason for different quality of produce, also–giant ag vs smaller farms, though I had always assumed that also reflected a gmo vs not, but I could be wrong. Farmer’s markets here also have much better fruits and veggies than grocery stores, for the most part.

  28. different clue


    I have been random-walking the web and I find another reference to a corn developed in Utah.
    Here is the link:

    Again, I don’t know if this is the corn by “a guy in Utah” which you reference in your comment.

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