By F. William Engdahl
12 November 2021
The global energy shortages which have driven prices for coal, oil and natural gas to explosive highs in the last months are a predictable consequence of the mad pursuit of “Zero Carbon” economic policies that have seen foolish governments subsidize a growing share of electricity from unreliable solar and wind generation. One consequence has been a five-fold rise in the price of natural gas or methane across the globe. That extends from China to the EU, USA and beyond. A follow-on consequence of that natural gas shortage and price explosion is a growing crisis in world agriculture fertilizer production. This may all be no accident. It fits the WEF Great Reset Agenda of UN 2030 .
Ammonia-based fertilizers made from nitrogen (most of our air, so never in shortage) and natural gas or methane (CH4) make up almost 70% of all fertilizers used to support major agriculture crops such as wheat, corn, rice and even coffee. As natural gas prices have soared by anywhere from 300% to 500% over the past months, this has had a devastating impact on world fertilizer production where some 80% of the cost of making ammonia fertilizers is due to natural gas.
When Hurricane Ida stormed across Louisiana on August 25, the largest ammonia factory complex in the world, owned by CF Industries, was closed for safety reasons and only reopened ten days later. Curiously at that point two more factories from the same CF Industries, those in the UK, announced they would close two more fertilizer plants on September 22, claiming high natural gas prices as the cause, despite the fact their Louisiana plant had just been out for ten days. The two plants supply some two-thirds of UK domestic fertilizer demand. The Government was forced to agree emergency subsidies to CF Industries to reopen one of the two plants temporarily to ease the pressures. The combined effect of the three major closures by the same group added to the crisis in world fertilizer supply. It may be just coincidence that the two largest stock owners of CF Industries are Vanguard and BlackRock.
This crisis is snowballing. As of early October reported closures of ammonia fertilizer production had been announced by the giant German chemicals company, BASF, in Belgium and Germany, indefinitely. It also affects production of ammonia-based diesel fuel additive, AdBlue.
Further closings are ongoing in Achema in Lithuania, OCI in Netherlands. Yara International is reducing 40% of its EU ammonia fertilizer production. Fertiberia in Spain is closing a plant along with OPZ in Ukraine, a major fertilizer producer. In Austria Borealis AG has closed production and Germany’s largest ammonia producer, SKW Piesteritz, has cut production by 20%.
Worsening the overall global fertilizer crisis, the Biden Administration in August slapped sanctions on the Belarus government, explicitly naming Belaruskali OAO, the world’s fourth largest fertilizer producer, for “sustaining the Belarusian regime at the expense of the Belarusian people.” Belaruskali controls about one-fifth of the world potash-based fertilizer market.
Heart of global food security
Nitrogen-based fertilizers are far the most widely used in global farming, about three-fourths of all commercial fertilizers. Since the development of the Haber-Bosch process in Germany just before the First World War, artificial production of nitrogen fertilizers has supported the enormous expansion in agriculture productivity. Nitrogen fertilizers are made from ammonia (NH3) produced by the Haber-Bosch process. It is energy-intensive using natural gas (CH4) which is methane, to supply hydrogen. This NH3 or ammonia is used as a feedstock for other nitrogen fertilizers, such as anhydrous ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) and urea (CO(NH2)2). Crop yields since World War Two have become strongly dependent on nitrogen-based fertilizers. It is estimated for the US that average corn yields would decline by 40 percent without nitrogen fertilizer.
Today estimates are that perhaps half the global population is dependent on nitrogen fertilizers. According to studies published in the scientific journal, Nature, 48 percent of the world population in 2008 was dependent on nitrogen fertilizers for their daily access to food. “This means that nitrogen fertilizers in 2015 provided food security for 3,5 billion people who would otherwise have starved to death.”
Adding a huge shock to the growing global fertilizer shortage is the decision by Beijing in recent weeks to severely cut or freeze fertilizer exports for a variety of reasons including shortages of coal and natural gas for electric power and a panicked try to control domestic inflation. Record summer floods in Henan Province hit the heart of the China grain region, and the government has started a campaign to have citizens undergo a “Clean Plate Campaign 2.0″ to stop food waste, which some believe is a way to disguise the serious harvest failures.
China, India and USA are far and away the world’s largest users of nitrogen fertilizers in tons per acre. China is also one of the largest fertilizer exporters and there the government in September announced a ban on nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer export until June 2022. With soaring global natural gas prices, as well as coal which China imports, the country has seen significant electric power blackouts owing to electric companies closing rather than sell power at a loss. One consequence of the complex crisis is the fertilizer export ban. China is the largest exporter of urea nitrogen fertilizer, accounting for nearly a third of the global supply, and is also a major manufacturer of phosphate.
In Bavaria in southern Germany, farmers are reportedly unable to buy fertilizer until at least next summer. The spreading global fertilizer crisis will mean sharp reductions in feed corn, wheat, rice, coffee and other crops in 2022. This hits amid the steepest food price inflation in decades, further aggravated by covid measures and disruptions in global shipping trade.
COP26 Methane Attack
Behind the growing global fertilizer shortage crisis is the five-fold explosion in the price of methane or natural gas as it is usually called. This has its origins in deliberate “anti-carbon” green policies of the Biden Administration and of the European Union with its “Fit for 55” program to cut CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030, including methane or natural gas. The Biden administration has forced disinvestment in USA shale gas, and the forced expansion of highly-subsidized Green Energy such as wind and solar have created an unreliable electric grid. When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine alternative electric power is missing. Storage is a huge problem. That was not so critical when solar or wind made up a tiny percent of the grid. But today in countries such as energy-dependent Germany, alternatives can make up 42% of gross electric consumption. As nuclear and coal plants are taxed into extinction for the Zero Carbon madness, prices for oil and natural gas are exploding. New investment in hydrocarbon exploitation is collapsing as a result, and supplies limited just when everyone needs it.
The growing crisis in world fertilizer production fits well into the UN Agenda 2030 for “sustainable” (sic) agriculture by which the globalists such as World Economic Forum of Klaus Schwab and BlackRock of Wall Street, the world’s largest private investment fund with a reported $9 trillion in assets it manages, mean dramatic reduction in meat production, replacing it with fake lab-grown meats or even insects as a protein source.
There is a growing demonization of agriculture and especially meat production, claiming it is a major source of global warming. Methane is now a major target of the Green Agenda from the USA and EU. Notably, at the recent UN COP 26 global warming gathering, some 100 nations signed on to a joint EU-US proposal to cut methane gas emissions by 30% by 2030. We can expect to see growing government and NGO attacks on our food system using soaring fertilizer prices, campaigns against meat and demands for “sustainable” agriculture to further raise our now-soaring cost of food. Key to this attack is the Green New Deal war on oil, gas and coal, the low-cost energy system that has been the heart of today’s global economy and escape from poverty since World War II.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”