Robust Agriculture Sector Will Be Key to Survival During Next Grand Minimum

Russ Steele

As a conservative I have taken a very negative view of subsides for green energy, renewable energy, especially ethanol which consumes food for fuel.  I recently participated in a discussion of agriculture subsides and came to the realization that some agricultural subsides may have future survival benefits and may even have an impact on our national security.

As many readers of  this blog know, I have been examining the possibility of another Grand Minimum for some time, presenting studies and scientific evidence to support my position and for reader evaluation and comment.  There is growing evidence that a Grand Minimum similar to the Maunder is in our future, see references herehere, here, here and here.

One of the agricultural impacts of a Maunder scale minimum is long term drought. See my post on the Maunder Minimum and Fall of Ming Dynasty . Anther impact is shortening the length of the growing season, shifting regions of production farther south.

In 1980 Newman (see references) published a paper showing that the Corn Belt shifted 144 km per 1.0°C change in temperature. If the temperature were to all fall 5.2°C, the Corn Belt would shift 750 km south to the Sun Belt, as shown following graphic provided by David Archibald:

The outlook for Canadian agriculture is somewhat more dire, as wheat growing regions shift south into the the United States. (David Archibald)

The stippled line is the current Canadian wheat-growing area. The heavy black line is where it would shrink to if temperatures fell by one degree Celsius. A decline of 2.0 degrees Celsius would move the growing region to the latitude of the US-Canadian border.  (David Archibald)

Has this happened before?  Yes it has according to archeological records. The map in the following graphic shows how Indian maize growing moved south in response to the onset of the Little Ice Age during the Maunder Minimum. (Reiley 1979, see references)(David Archibald).

These conditions would also apply to other wheat and corn growing regions around the globe.  One of the issues is if temperatures drop sharply as they have in the past, it will take farmers some time to adjust to the new realities of a colder world. During these shifts, production will fall and shortage will occur. Note the sudden cooling shown in this graphic below.

In the US we have an advantage as there is room for production to shift south and in the case of corn we have a production buffer, we can stop using corn for fuel and turn it into food. This gives the US some measure of food security.

What would be the impact on local agriculture if we experienced a grand minimum of the Maunder class? In the China Case, it resulted in long term drought and the fall of the Ming Dynasty.  According to climatology and geological records, California has also experienced some long term droughts.

National Academy of Sciences panelist Franco Biondi,  together with Kleppe  and  Scotty Strachan , create a poster presentation entitled Underwater Dendrochronology of Sierra Nevada  Lakes.  Philip Catarino, one of the divers that participated in the data collection had an online article,  Reconstructing Ancient Avalanches of the Sierra Nevada Range,  in which he observed:

During the last 500 years, a wet climate, punctuated by intermittent but substantial droughts, began to dominate the region, and lake levels again rose and cirques glaciers reformed in the Sierra. A series of substantial droughts are documented during this period, however. Dozens of submerged tree stumps are located up to 300 feet below the present day level of Donner Lake, a tributary of the Truckee River; carbon –14 samples from one stump date from AD 1433 (Lindstrom and Bloomer 1994). Another warm period, documented by tree-ring studies and Truckee River run-off, dated between AD 1579-1585, and again around AD 1630 (Hardman and Reil 1936).

It is possible that Lake Tahoe contributed relatively little water to the Truckee River during the last 200 years. During the century between the mid 1700s to mid 1800s, the level of Lake Tahoe may have been below its rim, with no water flow into the Truckee River. This is documented by a submerged stump in the Upper Truckee River Delta dating from AD 1720 (Lindstrom 1996a), one from Donner Lake dating from AD 1800 (Lindstrom and Bloomer 1994) and one in Emerald Bay dating to AD 1840 (Lindstrom 1992). The 40 years between AD 1875-1915 were the longest period during which the flow of the Truckee River was above the average. During the AD 1930s drought, Lake Tahoe ceased to flow from its outlet for six consecutive years. Drought within the last decade (late 1980s to 1990s) either stopped Tahoe’s flow into the Truckee or reduced it to almost nothing.

What about valley rivers flows during past Grand Minimums?   D.M. Meko, did a reconstruction of Sacramento River System Runoff From Tree Rings from 901 to 1977, for the California Department of Water Resources, published in July 2001.

Below is a plot of the Sacramento river flow from 903 to 1903. I chose this period to see what river flow looked like  before California  started storing water in dams in the river basin.  Note the multiple serial drought years, the  smooth plot is a 30 year average.

Graphic from Wikipedia

As you can see, Grand Minimums have resulted in reduced river flow, which would indicate long term droughts in California.  It could happen again in the Northern Hemisphere, here in California, China and across the globe. In the past these droughts have created regional food  shortages, resulting in civil unrest and the overthrow of governments.

I am convinced the evidence demonstrates that we are on the cusp of the next Grand Minimum and there will be major impacts on agriculture around the globe. This recognition has modified my views on agricultural subsidies.

Lets say we remove all agricultural food subsidies? What would be the impact? Many farmers would have to compete with farmers from around the world, and many would be unable to produce competitive products and go out of business.  We would become dependent for major food groups like rice from Asian countries. Like we are now dependent on oil from foreign suppliers because we refuse to drill on our own lands to provide the necessary fuel. We should not make the same mistake in agriculture.

Lets assume that Congress has eliminated all rice subsidies and we are now dependent on foreign suppliers.  And let’s assume that the next Grand Minimum is real and it creates wide spread drought in rice growing regions through out the world like past minimums have.  This long term drought would create rice shortages. Those rice growing countries would have an obligation to feed their own people first. Only when they had a surplus would they ship any to the US.  But, our rice farmers are no longer growing rice, they have sold their fields to developers and retired to the foothills.

This scenario is why I have modified my position on agricultural subsidies — Food Security.  If we do not keep agricultural production in the US we will not have the resources to sustain our selves.  At the present time agricultural subsidies are keeping American farmers in the global market, allowing them to compete and survive.

When the long term droughts come we are going to need every scrap of food we can produce to feed our own people and survive as a nation. Insuring that America has a robust agricultural industry is going to be our key to survival.  Agricultural Food Subsides = Food Security.


Newman (Newman, J. E. (1980). Climate change impacts on the growing season of the North American Corn Belt. Biometeorology, 7 (2), 128-142. Supplement to International Journal of Biometeorology, 24 (December, 1980).

Riley, T. J., and Friemuth, G. (1979). Field systems and frost drainage in the prehistoric agriculture of the Upper Great Lakes. American Antiquity, 44 (2), 271-285.

Meko, D. M. 2001. Reconstructed Sacramento River System Runoff From Tree Rings. Report prepared for the California Department of Water Resources, July 2001.


9 thoughts on “Robust Agriculture Sector Will Be Key to Survival During Next Grand Minimum

  1. gjrebane April 14, 2012 / 3:59 pm

    Good piece Russ. Having been present at the discussion you reference, I too have had my ideas about agricultural subsidies modified in light of the geo-strategic implications of ‘food security’ as the climate cooling you describe approaches.

  2. david April 15, 2012 / 8:22 am

    Subsidies won’t save us in the event of a LIAthe federal government can’t print food. Look what happened in Texas last year 98% crop wipeout. We have very little spare food. We need to be freeze drying huge reserves now. If we don’t need them we have 30 years to use it. By the time they figure it out we will be in deep dodo. I have personally 2 years worth on hand. I have been studying the LIA for 20 years off and on. There is a great download at that goes over 2000 years of weather events.

  3. Russell Steele April 15, 2012 / 8:36 am

    Thanks for the great resource, I will be posting in some of the material on this blog.

  4. Dena April 15, 2012 / 9:00 am

    Subsidies in the form of taking land out of service to raise prices will produce less food instead of more. The United States has seen few shortages in the past because of the free market. The market is far better at adjusting the market to need than the government will ever be. We may have a year or two where our selection may be limited or more costly but when the farmers see a profit, they will alter their crops to meet the need. The proof to this is in your corn graph. The government has disturbed the corn market by requiring ethanol in our fuel. Remove that requirement and corn prices will drop causing farmers to move to other crops where they can make more profit.
    I am very much aware of possible higher prices and do have some food stocked away as well as starting a small garden to provide some of my kitchen needs. I currently can’t provide all my needs but I can take some of the edge off.

  5. D. King April 15, 2012 / 10:58 am

    Excellent post Russ.

    “Below is a plot of the Sacramento river flow from 903 to 1903. I chose this period to see what river flow looked like before California started storing water in dams in the river basin. “

    Of course a pet peeve of mine; water storage (dams / levees) destruction to “free” the river or return regions to wetland status is at best short sighted, and at worst criminal. People need to look to history as a resource and NOT a text to be edited for agenda (Wikipedia).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s