President Joe Biden pledged to help American farmers trying to mitigate a global spike in food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as he visited a family farm on Wednesday and has rolled out policies aimed at boosting harvests in a way the administration says could also help reduce door-to-door grocery bills.
“I am here today to thank American farmers who are the breadbasket of democracy,” Biden said. “We can ensure that US agricultural exports will fill the Ukrainian supply gap.”
His administration announced three policy changes to help American farmers face global challenges. These include doubling funding for national fertilizer production to $500 million, greater access to agricultural management tools for plant and soil needs, and efforts to increase the number of counties eligible for the “double crop” insurance so that farmers can reuse their land for planting in the same year.
Biden noted that Ukraine has 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn in storage that the United States and its allies are trying to help ship out of the country. This would help resolve some supply issues, although difficulties may persist.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted that country’s wheat supply on world markets, while driving up the cost of oil, natural gas and fertilizers. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said its food price index in April jumped nearly 30% from a year ago, although the index fell slightly on a monthly basis. Americans are also hurting as food prices are up 9.4% from a year ago, the biggest increase in 41 years.
Biden toured the 800-acre O’Connor Farms in Illinois with its owners, Jeff and Gina O’Connor. They grow wheat to harvest in July and later use the same land for soybeans. Biden asked to drive one of their tractors, only to be told he drives himself.
Examining the wheat, the president observed, “It looks healthy to me.”
Wednesday’s trip was an opportunity for Biden to tackle two distinct challenges shaping his presidency. First, his declining approval rating has been dogged by high inflation and his visit coincides with the April Consumer Price Index release. Consumer prices rose 8.3% from a year ago, down slightly from the 8.5% annual increase in March. The drop partly reflects a cooling in gasoline prices last month after the jump caused by the start of the war in Ukraine. Still, volatility persists with energy costs, as gasoline prices climbed in May to an average of $4.40 a gallon on Wednesday, according to AAA.
Much more broadly, Biden’s visit offered a chance to reinforce America’s distinct role in helping to alleviate the challenges caused by the war in Ukraine. The trip follows a similar pattern, as Biden’s recent visit to an Alabama weapons factory highlighted Javelin anti-tank missiles supplied by the United States to Ukraine.
Several House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, met with Biden on Tuesday after touring Ukraine. They warned that the food shortage meant the consequences of the war unleashed by Russian President Vladimir Putin would stretch far beyond Ukraine’s borders to some of the world’s poorest nations.
“This is going to lead to a hunger crisis, much worse than expected,” Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern said after the White House meeting.
An analysis this month for the center-right American Enterprise Institute by Joseph Glauber and David Laborde noted that countries in the Middle East and North Africa are primarily likely to suffer from rising prices caused by grain shortages.
There are limits to the amount of wheat the United States can produce to make up for any shortages. The Department of Agriculture estimated in March that 47.4 million acres of wheat had been planted this year, an increase of only 1% from 2021. It would be the fifth lowest amount of wheat acres in records dating back to 1919.
After Biden spoke at the farm, he traveled to Chicago to address a convention of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.