Snipers behind every grain silo

We need to be wary for the things that are going to kill us, because I do believe we’re in the middle of a war. But we have to beware of seeing snipers in every tree.

I feel like I have to say this, because otherwise people will take this post the wrong way: I believe that food cost and availability is going to be much more of a problem than it currently is, particularly outside of North America.

Okay, then. Now, someone I respect recently posted this article as an example of the ongoing war on food.

100-year-old Prosser grain silo destroyed in dramatic fireball

But a grain elevator explosion isn’t new or surprising. Fine dust from organic materials is always an explosion hazard. According to the Kansas State University, there were sixteen agricultural dust explosions in 1997, and a ten-year average prior to that of thirteen agricultural dust explosions per year. Of the sixteen in 1997, nine occurred in grain elevators.

So the raw fact of a single explosion needs to be put into context.

Are we seeing double the number of grain explosions? Triple? 100 times? Or, perhaps, half the usual number? One tenth?

And how much of our food supply chain does this affect? 1%? 10%? 0.001%?

My source shared this explosion because he sees that there are a large number of fires in our food supply chain. He’s not the only one. Here’s an article that points to a variety of fires that have hit food processing plants.

Fires at Food Processing Plants Result in Reduced Capacity, Delays, and Layoffs

The headline talks about “fires” (plural) resulting in reduced capacity (a general quantity), which makes it sound like the totality of the fires will cause a general reduction in capacity. And it must be a newsworthy reduction, or why would it be in the news?

But in fact when you look at the article, there’s literally no sign of significant capacity problems beyond the single-plant level, and even the single-plant capacity problems are relatively few. Here, for instance:

Oregon-based Shearer’s Foods laid off its entire workforce—about 230 people—after a fire ripped through the Hermiston plant in late February.

“After assessing the damage, it’s clear that the destruction is too great to rebuild and begin production in the near term,” Shearer’s Foods CEO Bill Nictakis said in a March 8 statement.

Damn, sounds bad, right? But wait:

“Unfortunately, it would take at least 15 [to] 18 months before we could resume production,” Nictakis said. “We have not yet decided [on] the future of the Shearer’s Hermiston site. [It] has led to the very difficult decision to end employment for our team members.”

There’s more than one plant?

He said the company was “exploring opportunities to relocate team members interested in working in our other plants.”

Yes. And the others are still operational, which means Shearer didn’t lay off its “entire workforce”, but only the workforce related to that plant.

What about the four-alarm fire at Taylor Farms?

“This was an unfortunate event, but thankfully there were no injuries. We have a strategic network across North America where this will not impact the availability of fresh foods from Taylor Farms,” Rachel Molatore, the company’s director of communications, told The Epoch Times. “No employees were laid off; we are already underway to rebuild the facility, and the investigation is still going on regarding the cause of the fire.”

And so on.

On April 30, a soybean processing tank caught fire at a Purdue Farms plant in Chesapeake, Virginia. However, company officials said the facility would continue operating.

Even the poignant and sad event that leads the article, a fire at Wisconsin River Meats, shows how devastating such an event can be for…20 people.

Company owner David Mauer said the Mauston-based company “lost everything” related to production in the fire, and more than 20 people lost their jobs.

I have immense sympathy for everyone involved, but a 20-person company is a single sodium ion in the ocean of the US food supply chain. This is not a significant event — and the others mentioned appear to be even less so.

I haven’t even begun to try to do the full amount of research needed to quantify the impact of fires at food processing plants in an ordinary year, but it’s pretty clear from a quick overview that it’s pretty close to zero. But the people sharing stories like this seem to have even less of a baseline to work from, and they’re brought up short when confronted with the fact that the collection of fires they’re looking at represents a negligible fraction of our food supply chain.

I think we should be watching out for potential evil around us. We need to be wary for the things that are going to kill us, because I do believe we’re in the middle of a war. But we have to beware of seeing snipers in every tree. Focusing on what’s important means ignoring the unimportant, and these fires are unimportant.

One thought on “Snipers behind every grain silo”

  1. Another example came in this morning. The Ice Age Farmer (who is worth following in general but is overhyping agricultural fires) posted this article on Telegram, quoting this part of it:

    Another egg producer burns to the ground – “It was unbelievable how quick it grew, it was insane,” Andy Trebesch said. “It was the whole sky, it was quite large.”

    Tens of thousands of chickens burned at the farm, started in 1918, sold more than three million eggs a day to some of the nation’s largest retailers.

    …but the place that burned only had “tens of thousands” of chickens. Since chickens lay no more than one egg per day (usually averaging slightly less than that), if we assume “tens of thousands” means no more than 90,000 chickens, that’s 90,000 eggs per day.

    90,000 / 3,000,000 = ~3% of this farm’s output. If “tens of thousands” really means 20,000, this number is more like 0.7% of their output.

    This is a substantial hit to this farm, and I don’t want to minimize the impact to them, but it’s only one farm, and it’s likely to be between 1-2% of that one farm’s total output.

    On the other hand, the US produced about 111.6 billion-with-a-b eggs in 2020. If we assume 90,000 eggs per day for 365 days (which is generous, but whatever) then we see that this represents a loss of
    (90,000 * 365) / 111,600,000,000 = 0.029% of US egg production.

    You could have 34 fires of this magnitude before you break 1% of US egg production capacity.

    Meanwhile, avian flu and its aftermath, including the euthanizing of about 38,000,000 chickens this year, is a real threat. If those were all layers, that would be 11 billion eggs, or 10% of the US supply. But many people are treating fires as a threat because they’re so dramatic.

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