Biden wants to boost US food production amid Ukraine war

President Joe Biden on Wednesday outlined White House plans to help American farmers boost crop production to counteract reduced food exports from Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking from a farm in Kankakee, Illinois, the president noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack had pushed up global prices for a variety of staples, including wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds and cooking oil . Russia and Ukraine together provide more than 25% of world wheat exports and about 20% of barley exports.

“Right now, America is fighting on two fronts,” Biden told the crowd gathered at the farm. “At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it helps Ukrainians defend their democracy and feeds those who are starving around the world because of Russian atrocities.”

In an attempt to quell food shortages, the Biden administration plans to increase the number of counties eligible for insurance for double-growing, meaning when farmers plant a second crop on the same land in the same year.

“Double cropping comes with real risks,” the president said. “When the weather conditions aren’t ideal, or at least not good…then the timing throws off everything.”

“But it’s a risk we have to take,” Biden added. “That’s why my government is looking at ways to expand crop insurance coverage to give farmers financial security.”

The White House hopes these moves will help US farmers surpass a record-breaking 2021 growing season, in which the value of US agricultural exports hit $177 billion.

(LR) Gina and Jeff O’Connor, owners of O’Connor Farms, U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speak during a visit to O’Connor Farm in Kankakee, Illinois May 11, 2022.

Nicholas comb | AFP | Getty Images

The latest initiatives come a month after the United Nations warned that up to 1.7 billion people are “highly exposed” to the domino effect of Russia’s war on global food, energy and financial systems. The global organization said the invasion threatened to worsen hunger in already malnourished countries.

Even in countries where food is not so scarce, prices take up huge chunks of paychecks. In the US, the Labor Department said Wednesday morning that the prices Americans pay for groceries rose 1% in April and 10.8% over the past 12 months.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in April that food prices were “skyrocketing” around the world.

The White House said it also plans to double its investment in domestic fertilizer production from $250 million to $500 million to reduce costs for growers.

Efforts will seek to alleviate one of the main culprits behind the rise in food prices: a global fertilizer shortage.

“That’s why the US Department of Agriculture announced earlier this year that it would invest $250 million in fertilizer production,” Biden said on Wednesday, recalling an earlier conversation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“I turned to Tom and said, ‘Tom, double that. Make $500 million.’ It’s so badly needed. We can’t take any chances,” Biden said. “It’s crucial to get this done.”

Russia and Belarus, one of Moscow’s allies, provide about 40% of world potash exports. Farmers rely on the potassium-rich salt and component in the global fertilizer industry to increase annual harvests.

In recent years, Russia also exported 11% of the world’s urea and 48% of ammonium nitrate, two other important fertilizer components, Morgan Stanley estimates.

“Fertilizer prices have more than doubled since last year, in part due to supply chain disruptions caused and exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the White House said in a fact sheet released Wednesday morning.

“These actions will help open up new markets for American-grown food and support jobs in rural communities across America,” the government added.

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Chrissy Callahan

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