Tuesday, May 7, 2019

One of the Scariest Sentences In the English Language: Crop Progress Report Edition

The weekly crop progress report was released yesterday but first a quick diversion:
In the spring of 1315, unusually heavy rain began in much of Europe. 
The story continues:
Throughout the spring and summer, it continued to rain and the temperature remained cool. These conditions caused widespread crop failures. The straw and hay for the animals could not be cured and there was no fodder for the livestock. The price of food began to rise. Food prices in England doubled between spring and midsummer. Salt, the only way to cure and preserve meat, was difficult to obtain because it could not be evaporated in the wet weather; it went from 30 shillings to 40 shillings. 
Some of the headlines introducing yesterday's USDA report:
Spring field work continues to be hampered by cold, wet conditions
Corn planting is behind schedule in Minnesota, again
More rain to target flood-weary US Heartland this week, further delaying planting 
Ohio Crop Progress: Rain continued to stall planting
Trump tweet may play to quick-growing corn switch as rain persists

I am so torn on this stuff.
The world can handle one year of crop failures in two of the major growing regions, think Ukraine, western Russia, U.S. Midwest, northeast China, Brazil, Australia.
If it stretches to two years in two regions simultaneously it's time to start thinking famine.
And famine is profitable for everyone but the people who need to eat.

Back to the Wikipedia entry:
...The famine caused millions of deaths over an extended number of years and marked a clear end to the period of growth and prosperity from the 11th to the 13th centuries.

The Great Famine started with bad weather in spring 1315. Crop failures lasted through 1316 until the summer harvest in 1317, and Europe did not fully recover until 1322. The period was marked by extreme levels of crime, disease, mass death, and even cannibalism and infanticide. The crisis had consequences for the Church, state, European society, and for future calamities to follow in the 14th century....
Here's the first table in the May 6 crop report:
Crop Progress

ISSN: 1948-3007

Released May 6, 2019, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), 
Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture 

Corn Planted - Selected States
[These 18 States planted 92% of the 2018 corn acreage]
                 :            Week ending            :           
      State      :  May 5,   : April 28, :  May 5,   : 2014-2018 
                 :   2018    :   2019    :   2019    :  Average  
                 :                    percent                    
Colorado ........:    15           8          21          28     
Illinois ........:    68           9          10          66     
Indiana .........:    37           2           3          35     
Iowa ............:    37          21          36          51     
Kansas ..........:    44          31          41          51     
Kentucky ........:    34          28          42          46     
Michigan ........:    12           2           3          16     
Minnesota .......:     8           2           6          42     
Missouri ........:    74          45          49          74     
Nebraska ........:    38          16          35          47     
North Carolina ..:    78          53          73          81     
North Dakota ....:     6           1           3          23     
Ohio ............:    20           2           2          27     
Pennsylvania ....:     8           5          17          19     
South Dakota ....:     5           -           -          29     
Tennessee .......:    61          41          65          70     
Texas ...........:    79          65          70          73     
Wisconsin .......:    13           4           7          24     
18 States .......:    36          15          23          46     
-  Represents zero.                                              

And the rest of the report (13 page PDF)

Some of our previous references to The Great Famine of 1315 - 1317

Weather Events In Great Britain and Ireland In the Years 1300-1399 (the Martin Rowley, booty.org.uk files)

 London Bridge arches damaged by ice during a severe winter. Thames frozen. A possible frost-fair on the Thames in London; which implies a persistent length of sub-zero temperatures at some time this winter (inferred by the statement in some chronicles that 'sport' was held on the river). Usual stories about people walking across the Thames. According to contemporary reports " dancing took place around a fire built on the ice and a hare was coursed (chased) on the frozen waterway ". 8

 Several famines occurred during these years (weather assumed to have been responsible, with all three years noted by various historians as 'very wet' ... it's a moot point though as to whether all three were really wet, or just the effects of one or two carrying over). Brazell says that the famine of 1316 was probably the last really severe one in England, and historians have estimated that over this period, approximately half-a-million people died (roughly 10% of the population) of causes related to famine, which represented approximately 10% of the population. [ The wet year credited to 1315 may be the origin of the St. Swithin legend. ]
The 'Black Death' (Bubonic plague) that ravaged the country 1348 onwards may have some linkage to these precursor conditions - though it is a long time afterwards. Certainly though, in the mid-1300's, mortality was high due to famine, disease etc.
It is suggested that it was an increase in climatic variability, rather than the absolute temperature & rainfall regimes that caused the problems. There is some suggestion of an increase in extreme events (including wind-storms), however defined. Some evidence that as well as excessively damp conditions, temperatures were depressed.
[Additional references: Lucas, 1930: "The Great European Famine of 1315, 1316 and 1317"; Kershaw, 1973: "The great famine and agrarian crisis in England, 1315-1322" and others ]

"The Great Transition: Climate, Disease and Society in the Late-Medieval World"
...The Black Death was not the only catastrophe Europe suffered in the fourteenth century. A whole generation of readers has the title and imagery of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century seared into their conceptions of life in the late Middle Ages.3 Famines, the Hundred Years’ War, economic disruptions, and all manner of hardship made life in Europe, at least, distinctly unpleasant. Campbell looks at this same long fourteenth century, arguing that this 200-year period should be carved out from the previous periodization in climate history, which saw the warm period of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) leading straight into the LIA. For Campbell, a variety of climate-forcing factors and economic shifts argue for designating the Great Transition as its own separate period, with four distinct phases.
  • 1260s to 1330s: This period saw the end of the MCA, a prolonged, mostly warm period that began around 900 CE which, with one exception in the first half of the eleventh century, was likely due to a high solar irradiance. In the MCA, not only Europe but much of Eurasia flourished. Rising populations, increasing urbanization, an economy growing by leaps and bounds: never had the world seen so much sustained growth and cultural flourishing. The onset of the Wolf solar minimum signaled the end of this prolonged period.4 Combined with changing weather, many years in this period experienced pronounced rainfall at levels that had not occurred since the 1250s and would not occur again until the 1980s. The late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries saw repeated catastrophes, including a sheep-scab epizootic in the 1270s and 1280s, the Great Northern European Famine of 1315–17, and a cattle panzootic of 1319–20. This period also saw a marked reduction of international trade, with severe shortages of bullion. 
  • 1340s to 1370s: The 1340s and early 1350s were, as Campbell remarks, “an almost uniquely disturbed and climatically unstable period when long-established atmospheric circulation patterns were on the cusp of lasting change.”5 The period was distinctly cold, and tree rings show a collective growth minimum. Extreme weather events stand out, such as the devastating Saint Mary Magdalene’s flood in central Germany in July 1342, which raised the Main to levels higher than have ever been documented since, and washed away the better part of topsoil in the region. Warfare, harvest failures, and famine all struck, virtually at once, followed by the great Black Death pandemic, 1346–1353. Despite a few years of climatic and economic alleviation in the 1350s, the plague’s return in the early 1360s ensured that population levels remained depressed. Campbell ventures an estimate of plague mortality of twenty-five million people in Europe, with figures in England indicating that at least one-third of the population perished, and, in certain regions, almost forty percent.6 The plague returned again around 1360, this time having a particularly pronounced effect on children born since the Black Death. It would return at least three more times before the century ended, and would, in fact, haunt most of Europe and the Mediterranean for the next three centuries. By the 1380s, Europe’s population had been reduced by half.....
In Non-Hurricane Irma News: "Diammonium Phosphate Prices Moved Sideways Last Week"
I realize we've been a bit obsessive with the hurricane postings but the combination of real tragedy (vs the 21st century B.S. we're force fed every day), the real tragedies happening right now, combined with giant money flows, it's hard to look away.

Regarding the headline, we aren't doing anything with the fertilizer or other agricultural inputs until there is a decisive turn at the base of the pyramid - the actual prices of crops and the cash flows they create.

Until that turn, we'll speculate on ag futures as opportunities pop up but unless we see something along the lines of the El NiƱo-caused crop failures of the 1870's - 1890's and famines created/exacerbated by corrupt/venal/incompetent politicians and administrators, we're not doing much in the input stuff or implement manufacturers. If we get some robotics/automation trades we'll post.

Alternatively, we keep tabs on reports of ergot outbreaks in Europe should there be hints of the cool-and-damp style famines that quasi-periodically showed up 1315 - 1818. Or potato blight.

So, with that cheery little break, here's Market Realist, Aug 28: