A large and highly mechanised army is preparing to roll across the rich prairies of the American Mid-West, knowing that the rest of the world is watching with anxious concern.
A large and highly mechanised army is preparing to roll across the rich prairies of the American Mid-West, knowing that the rest of the world is watching with anxious concern. The man machines are about to gather a harvest, the size of which will affect the world's food supply for the next twelve months.
Gloomy forecasts which predict returns well below earlier expectations of a bumper crop. have already sent a ripple of concern around the international commodity markets. With world food reserves barely adequate for three weeks' supply, and severe shortages in places like bangladesh and the Sahalian region of Africa, the returns from the American grain harvest are crucial.
America's own reserves of wheat and vital animal feed crops like maize and soya baans, are already at their lowest level for forty years. To remedy an acute situation, it needed a records American harvest.
But hopes of grain surplusses have been ruined by the farmers' oldest enemy - the weather.
First came torrential rains in Spring, sweeping away thousands of planted acres in the Mid-West corn belt. And then came weeks of drought, leaving the budding crop withered and stunted.
Recent heavy rain came just in time to avert a disaster but not soon enough to realise early hopes. The result of these climatic convulsions means that maize and soya bean crops are likely to fall short of last year's yield by about one sixth. With luck, ???eat may come close to the normal - but an average crop will do nothing to replenish the world's rapidly-emptying larder.
The long-term effects are even more serious. If the American maize and soya bean harvest is a loan one, it will mean an acute shortage of animal foodstuffs throughout the world - and that will automatically escalate the price of meat in the coming year.
Disappointing crop forecasts has already generated activity on the Chicago grain exchange, which deals with the bulk of the American grain supply. Dealers there expect prices to rocket as they did last year in the wake of a shortage caused by the ???assive export of cheap wheat to the Soviet Union - a blunder unlikely to be repeated, but which is bound to influence the market again this year, since American farm??? will be unwilling to sell their crops until the price is right for them.
And the upward movement of prices has already begun. In the first week of August, maize prices in Chicago road by one dollar a bushel, soya beans rose by fifty percent to over eight dollars and wheat by ninety cents.
The outlook for the world food supply is further complicated by uncertainties surrounding the Soviet harvest. Severe failure in 1972 let to the raid on the American grain market and, although optimistic forecasts have been made this year, the government newspaper Izvestia recently spoke of mistakes and difficulties, blaming bad weather and inefficient machinery as a cause of what it called "difficult, but not hopeless" problems in bringing in the harvest.
What is certain is that the demand for major crops such as wheat, corn, and soya beans for human and animal consumtion is rising year by year along with the world's expanding population, and is made acute by natural disasters such as drought and floods in certain areas of the globs.
It seems unlikely that this year's harvest will make any measurable contribution to food reserves and there may even be a serious gap between supply and immediate demand.
Just how big that gap is will depend on the final returns from the American Mid-West. It is small wonder that the army of farmers reaping its harvest is being watched this year with more than usual anxiety.