2022
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 7 Most Read Ag Data News Articles of 2022

I published 44 Ag Data News articles in 2022 (including this one). Five of them were written by students in my ARE 231 class.

Here are the 7 most read articles. For the top 5, I define most read by total views on my website and my substack site. I added numbers 6 and 7, which had lower view counts than some that did not make the list, but they had high engagement on Twitter.

Here's the list.

7. NYT Comes Out Swinging (2/9/22)
NYT

In February, New York Times Opinion published a video on the environmental effects of modern agriculture. They titled it "Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet," which tells you a lot about the conclusions they draw and the tone with which they present them.

Here's a link.  Watch it for yourself. They got some things right, but they got a lot wrong. My article describes six big errors.

In November, I wrote about another NYT hit job on agriculture. 

 

6. The Monopolistic Meatpackers (1/5/22)
Meat
Source: Food photo created by aleksandarlittlewolf - www.freepik.com

My first article of the year addressed an executive order from President Biden directing the Federal government to spend a billion dollars to increase competition in the meatpacking industry. The administration alleged that large firms jack up their profits by under-paying farmers for cattle and over-charging consumers for beef. 

The academic literature concludes that (i) a meatpacking industry dominated by a few large firms is the natural state of being due to scale economies, and  (ii) meatpacking firms have less ability to earn excessive profits than you would think based on their size. These factors make me skeptical that the new policies are well targeted. 

 

5. Big Drop in California Rice Acres (8/24/22)
DALL-E
Image by Dall-E: "a dry California rice field on a hot day with an empty irrigation canal running through it and a sad farmer nearby"

California is now in year four of a major drought. In August, farmers reported the number of acres they had intended to plant to a crop but were prevented from doing so by a natural disaster, such as inadequate irrigation water. Prevented planting reduced rice acres by 55% in 2022.  Colusa County lost 84% of its acreage and Glenn lost 75%.

Rice acreage will likely rebound again once this drought ends, but this year's massive reduction feels like a harbinger of tough times ahead for California rice.

 

4. Durian: The "King of Fruits" is Booming in China (11/18/22)
Durian
"Durian Kunyit" by Mohafiz M.H. Photography (www.lensa13.com) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

This article was written by UC Davis ARE PhD students Huizhi Yang and Jiawei Guo.  It was one of six excellent articles written by students in my ARE 231 class this fall.

Durian is known as the “king of fruits”. It is the size of a watermelon and is distinctive for its strong smell and prickly skin. Some people find durian has a pleasant sweetness, but others find the odor to be overbearing and unpleasant. In Southeast Asia, some hotels and public transportation services have banned the fruit due to its strong and persistent odor. 

However, durian is incredibly popular for those who enjoy it. It has long been a familiar fruit in China, but it has become very popular there in recent years.

 

3. Do They Still Grow Pineapples in Hawaii? (7/8/22)
Pineapple
An advertisement for Dole canned pineapple, circa 1940s. Dole

Hawaii agriculture is synonymous with pineapples and sugar. In the last decade, media has reported the disappearance of these two commodities from Hawaiian agriculture.  Dole and Del Monte moved most of their pineapple production out of Hawaii in the 1980s. The last sugar mill in Hawaii closed at the end of 2016.

USDA data show scant evidence of pineapple production, likely because most production comes from a single firm. However, according to United Nations FAO data, the United States produced $120m worth of pineapples in 2020. 

So, in spite of what USDA data imply, the pineapple remains one of the larger crops in Hawaii, even though it has receded from its heyday. 

 

2. The Story of Rising Fertilizer Prices (3/2/22)
Nitrogen Plant
Source: KBR

Fertilizer prices approximately doubled between the summer of 2020 and the end of 2021. In this article, I described the factors driving prices higher. I did not predict when prices would come back own because predicting commodity prices is a fool’s errand. Since I wrote the article, most fertilizer prices have receded a little, but they remain high.

I also published an article in ARE Update on the story behind the run-up in fertilizer prices. Read it. It's only four pages. 

 

1. We're Not Facing a Global Food Crisis (3/9/22)
Ukraine colors
By Dobrych - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5899451

I argued in this article that Russia's invasion of Ukraine had big but not historic effects on food commodity markets. I argued that the US should not respond by incentivizing additional production, in large part because the proposed measures would do little to alleviate the pressure in winter wheat markets. This year's winter wheat crop was already planted.

I also noted that the transition may be difficult in some places, especially countries such as Egypt that typically rely on wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Helping such countries find alternate suppliers would be better policy than paying US farmers to go back six months in time and plant more wheat.

Agricultural commodity prices have fallen since March, and many of the dire predictions people made after the invasion have not occurred. I think the article holds up.

Here are some other articles I wrote this year on Ukraine. 

  1. Russia, Ukraine, and Food Supply: Look at the Prices (3/31/22)
  2. Ukraine, Russia, and Sunflowers (4/21/22)
  3. Was I Wrong About the Global Food Crisis and Inflation? (5/18/22)
  4. Where is the Wheat? (6/3/22)

 

Happy new year everyone. See you in 2023.