Drought Puts China Wheat in Jeopardy

By David L. Brown

There is news of a serious drought that is threatening to destroy nearly half of China’s winter wheat crop. Widespread wheat growing regions had gone without rain for 100 days.

But not to worry. The Chinese government reports that the problem is well in hand.

First, they are going to divert two major rivers from the southern part of the country to the wheatlands for irrigation. This would be equivalent, perhaps, to diverting the Missouri River to southern California and Arizona. That shouldn’t be hard, and could no doubt be done well before the wheat crop has been destroyed in about the next month or so. Or not.

Second, and one might conclude this has already solved the problem based on the triumphant news reports out of China, they have begun firing thousands of artillery shells into the air containing rainmaking chemicals. The result, the government proudly reported, is that some areas have now received 2 to 5 millimeters of rain.

Wow! Two millimeters is about a twelfth of an inch and five millimeters is about a fifth of an inch. From my experience, dry, drought-stricken soil would absorb such small amounts only into the top of the dust layer and it would quickly evaporate. It would do nothing whatsoever to feed stricken roots deep in the ground.

Oh well, at least they’re trying … trying to put a good face on what might be a looming disaster. We must sympathize with the Communist leaders in the Forbidden City who face protests, food riots, possibly even revolution if the peasantry sees that things are going all pear-shaped PDQ.

The potential problem is immense. We are seeing the Australian summer wheat crop almost completely destroyed this year, in the twelfth year of drought. Also in the Southern Hemisphere Argentine crops are being wiped out by heat and drought. If a similar pattern begins to develop in China, they will be well and truly impaled on the sharp end of a No. 18 wood screw (see illustration below. Note nifty self-tapping feature.)

rapier_wood_screws.jpg

Northern China depends on wheat for noodles, won tons, dumplings and other mainstays of their cuisine. If they should lose a third or more of the crop, they would have to go on the world market to buy wheat. BUT, as I reported here recently (“Food Supplies Losing Race to Famine,” Jan. 27), should China increase its purchases of wheat by only five percent of its total usage, it would entirely wipe out the entire export supply of wheat worldwide.

That statement is a measure both of how big China is, and how small the remaining available grain stocks are. Taking the losses resulting from the Australian and Argentine droughts and heat waves into account, there might not even be any net wheat for export in the world later this year. That might leave several hundred million Chinese with empty bowls on their tables later this year. Try to imagine that.

Forget Peak Oil, that’s nothing. We’ve reached Peak Food and it’s all downhill from here on, especially in relatively poor and over-populated places like China, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Pakistan.

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