WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden wants to put a spotlight on the spike in food prices from Russia's invasion of Ukraine when he travels to an Illinois farm to emphasize how U.S. agricultural exports can relieve the financial pressures being felt worldwide.
The war in Ukraine has disrupted the supply of that country's wheat to global markets, while also triggering higher costs for oil, natural gas and fertilizer. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said its food price index in April jumped nearly 30% from a year ago, though the index did decline slightly on a monthly basis. Americans are also bearing some pain as food prices are up 8.8% from a year ago, the most since May 1981.
The trip to Illinois on Wednesday is an opportunity for Biden to tackle two distinct challenges that are shaping his presidency. First, his approval has been dogged by high inflation and his visit will coincide with the release of the May consumer price index, which economists say should show a declining rate of inflation for the first time since August.
But much more broadly, it's an opportunity 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 the anti-tank Javelin missiles provided by the U.S. to Ukraine.
“He’s going to talk about the support we need to continue to give to farmers to help continue to produce more and more domestically,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “Just as we are providing weapons, we are going to work on doing what we can to support farmers to provide more wheat and other food around the world.”
The president noted in remarks Tuesday about inflation that Ukraine has 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn in storage that the U.S. and its allies are trying to help ship out of the country. This would help to address some supply issues, though challenges could persist.
Several House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, met with Biden on Tuesday after having visited Ukraine. They warned that the food shortage meant the consequences of the war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin would extend well beyond Ukrainian borders to some of the world's poorest nations.
“It's going to result in a hunger crisis, much worse than anybody anticipated,” Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern following 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 mostly likely to suffer from the higher prices caused by grain shortages.
There are limits to how much wheat the U.S. can produce to offset any shortages. The Agriculture Departmen t estimated in March that 47.4 million acres of wheat were planted this year, an increase of just 1% from 2021. This would be the fifth lowest amount of acres dedicated to wheat in records that go back to 1919.
Biden will be traveling with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to Illinois. After the president speaks at the farm, he will go to Chicago to speak at a convention for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.