Inflation is here and with it the possibility of an agricultural commodities supercycle. We’ve all seen inflation at the gas pump and the grocery stores, and heaven help you if you need to build something right now. Just recently ZeroHedge published an article about ag leaders predicting a mini supercycle in commodities.
Let’s unpack this a little bit.
What does an agricultural commodities supercycle mean for the average consumer?
The agricultural indices referred to in the article monitor a combination of wheat, corn, soybean, coffee, sugar, cocoa, and cotton prices. They have all been rising for a variety of reasons. One is the Chinese need to rebuild their swine herds after devastating disease outbreaks last year. Swine feed primarily consists of corn and soy. Increased interest in biofuels is also driving price increases.
Corn, soy, and cotton (along with plants like rapeseed and sunflower) are all used in biofuels and now have industrial applications, affecting their availability for use as food. We’ve already written about steps you can take to produce cooking oil at home.
But what can we do about corn, wheat, and soybeans?
Most of us think of agricultural commodities like corn and wheat as things that have to be produced by people with special equipment. Therefore out of the reach of your average suburban gardener. That is somewhat true. However, you can grow corn in your backyard and eat corn on the cob for a few weeks in the summer.
A kernel of truth about corn
If you grow a lot, you can cut off the kernels and then freeze them to supplement your diet in the winter. But to make any flour, whether, from corn, wheat, or other grains, you need a grain mill. These are expensive enough to deter many people; even the cheaper ones are still a few hundred dollars. If you only have a small plot to work with, it’s probably not worth the expense. Unless you have a dozen friends growing corn or wheat in their backyards, and you all plan to share it. (You would need to really trust those friends.)
Let’s walk it back another step. In what do we use corn? If you eat primarily prepared food from the store, almost everything. In Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he goes into a tremendous amount of detail about the ubiquity of corn. If you eat TV dinners and fast food, you will see your food prices skyrocket.
It might be time to make some dietary changes.
But what about wheat?
Good old-fashioned wheat. I love wheat bread. Simple, homemade bread fresh out of the oven, covered with butter is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a regular side dish to eggs in the morning or soup in the evening at my house. It would be hard to do without.
I don’t plan to do without, not wholly. But I could use less. Do you know what else makes a good side dish? Potatoes and most people can grow some potatoes or another kind of root crop.
One potato, two potato…or other root crops
Potatoes themselves are a crapshoot on my property. Some years they do great. Other years they get some disease. But rutabagas are more consistent for me, and they are something you can grow on a field scale or in a tiny suburban plot. When I lived in Texas, it was too hot for rutabagas, so we grew turnips and sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes, in many ways, are the perfect staple crop for suburban gardeners. The plants with their green-purple heart-shaped leaves are so beautiful they can easily be mistaken for ornamentals. They need a growing season too long for Colorado. But they’re an excellent choice for urban/suburban gardeners in southern states.
Now let’s take a look at soy
If you’re a vegetarian, soy may be a staple for you. If you are a meat eater and consume meat from the grocery store, you are probably consuming a lot of soy as well. It is a significant component of most animal feed. Think you’re avoiding soy by eating organic? Nope, for most animals, the organic label just means they’re fed organic soy.
I’ve been avoiding soy for years. I’m not convinced it’s healthy in the quantities the average American eats it. Like corn, it finds its way into all kinds of processed food. And, like corn, if we start avoiding processed food, we will be avoiding one of the foods that the upcoming agricultural commodities supercycle will most impact.
Ahhh, sugar, sugar
Next on the list comes sugar. Like corn and soy, that’s something we eat a lot of without really thinking about it. The average American adult consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar every day, translating into about 57 pounds a year.
Like corn and soy, it’s something we can avoid if we avoid processed food.
But what about the enjoyment of food? Maybe you think this is beginning to sound like something too miserable to undertake. Or perhaps you believe preppers shouldn’t care about the little pleasantries in life. I’m afraid I have to disagree. Plenty of articles on The Organic Prepper are about the importance of mental health and self-care in SHTF scenarios, and for a lot of us, enjoyable food is a part of that.
How I cut down on my sugar intake
Let me share an experience I had regarding dramatically reduced sugar intake. A few years ago, I spent a week in Aomori province, a rural part of Japan. I was there for a family wedding. Aomori province, at least the area I was in, doesn’t cater to many tourists.
Nothing was in English. There weren’t any burger joints. My brother, who lived there and spoke excellent Japanese, told me all the food in the restaurants comes from about a ten-mile radius. They don’t have an equivalent of the USDA. For example, if a gardener in town has a lot of extra garlic or onions one day, he can take them to the restaurants in town, and that’s what they sell.
There was almost no sugar in anything
If you got a fruit pastry, it just tasted like fruit. The frosting on cakes just tasted like cream. It was different. But I spent a bit of time with my brother’s friends, many of whom were Americans living there, and they all told me the same thing. At first, they found the Japanese food strange, but as they were forced to deal with the lack of sugar, they all lost weight and grew used to it. When they took trips back to the States to visit family, they found that they didn’t like the sugar anymore.
I was only there for about a week. Even so, by the end of the trip, my stomach felt better than it had in years. When I got back to the States, I began experimenting with less sugar in my recipes. I can reduce sugar down to half or even a fourth without affecting the flavor in most foods.
Strictly speaking, in general, we don’t need sugar. However, it does come in handy for preserving foods. That is a complicated subject. If you preserve your foods, I would not recommend changing anything without doing some research first. Putting Food By by Hertzberg, Vaughn, and Greene is an excellent resource if you want to determine precisely how much sugar is needed to preserve food safely.
Coffee, cocoa, and cotton
Coffee, cocoa, and cotton are things most of us have less control over. We could do without coffee and cocoa, though I would prefer not to do without coffee. As far as cotton goes, all most of us can do right now is buy clothes that will last a long time. They will cost more upfront, but I think we will be out of cheap options before too long.
We might as well get things that will last us while we still can.
The agricultural commodities super-cycle will affect us all
If we are willing to be flexible in our food choices, we will find that we can roll with the punches better than those who refuse to make changes.
The Organic Prepper has had a lot of great articles lately about urban and suburban homesteading. If these articles have inspired you, I encourage you to set aside a tiny portion of land or space to see what kind of high-calorie staple crops (potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas) will work for you.
Will a suburban gardener be able to produce a year’s worth of food for their family? Probably not. But you may have more options than you realize in terms of producing actual meals. The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross, will show you how to grow your own fruits, herbs, and vegetables even on a limited schedule. From seed to harvest, this book will keep you on track so you feel a sense of accomplishment for your efforts.
What will you do to thrive now and in the years ahead?
Prepping isn’t just about making sure you survive some far-off doomsday. Prepping is also about adding to your skill sets to give you peace of mind today. I get accused of being pessimistic and cynical a lot in personal life, because I don’t think we’re ever going back to normal and I refuse to pretend so. However I’m not miserable or depressed about it. I believe I’ve been doing all I can to prepare accordingly. If I thrive in the upcoming years, great. And, if not, I know I did my best with what I could, and will have no regrets.
Daisy’s written and published many articles about the importance of gardening. If you’ve been inspired to plant a garden, or even just one tomato plant, let us know! We would love to know what inspired you and how it went! What will you add to your preps for this looming crisis? What are you willing to cut down on in the event of an agricultural commodities supercycle? Share with other readers in the comment section below.
About Joanna Miller
Joanna has been homeschooling three children since 2012. In 2014, she moved to the High Plains of Colorado. She and her children began a little homestead, gardening and raising chickens for eggs and meat. One animal led to another, and these days they have livestock guardian dogs, chickens, geese, ducks, alpacas, goats, pigs, and one very spoiled cat.