The Sidekick #003

Food Insecurity – At Home & Abroad

Kris Lance

Kris Lance

VP & General Manager, Una

March 26, 2024

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Welcome to Issue #003 of The Sidekick! You may remember that in the last issue we touched on the topic of beef. Well, I hope you’re hungry for more, because this month I’m exploring the wider challenge of food security at home and overseas.

Food again… Why?

Because right now, the number of US farms is declining at an alarming rate, commodities like cocoa are facing an unprecedented supply crisis, and the EU is wargaming food shortages.

Meanwhile, what the heck is going on with Boeing? It seems like you can’t open a news website these days without reading about misdrilled holes, engines erupting into flames, and other “technical events.” For procurement and supply managers, it’s like watching a live lesson about the consequences of reckless cost-cutting.

That’s not all. Scroll down to check out the one career tip to rule them all, curated highlights from social media, words of wisdom from Mike Tyson, tech news, people to follow, and more. 

Let’s dive in.

Image: Cartoon Movement

The American Supply Scene: Food Insecurity

The USDA just released its 2017-2022 Census of Agriculture (yes, they take a while to compile the report), but the insights are always worth the wait. An analysis from the American Farm Bureau Federation revealed the number of farms in the US declined by 141,733 (7%) in just five years, while acres operated by farm operations during the same timeframe plummeted by 20.1 million (2.2%).

For context, that’s the equivalent to an area about the size of Maine. If you look at the trend since 1950, we’ve lost farming acreage equivalent to twice the size of Texas!

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Common sense points the finger at big corporations consolidating farms faster than a chicken on steroids can lay eggs, but the census reveals this isn’t the case: only 1.88% of acres operated and 1% of farm operators were classified under a non-family corporate farm structure.

The reality though is that the downward trend is driven by productivity-boosting technological advancements that enable farmers and ranchers to seemingly produce much more with less. The value of agriculture produced increased from $389 billion in 2017 to $533 billion in 2022. That’s 40% nominally… but really only 17%, when adjusted for the wild inflation journey we’ve all been through (are you having fun yet?).

Those numbers look healthy, so what’s the problem with having fewer farms? On its face this would look like incredible efficiencies, but The Farm Bureau explains:

Even minor declines in farmed areas can have a significant impact on the rural identity of states … The more land shifted out of agriculture production, the harder it is to return those acres to farming. Diminished production capacity within specific states and regions heightens dependence on purchases from other states or countries. Hawaii faces a unique situation with only enough production and food storage capacity to sustain itself for seven days, exacerbated by a 7% loss in actively farmed land over the past five years.”

Think about that for a second. Only seven days’ storage capacity in Hawaii; did we already forget about the horrific fires last year? What happens if a weather event disrupts the supply chain? What if the inevitable conflict with China and Taiwan turns the entire Pacific into a theater of war, as it was in WWII? Either way, there’s clearly a massive case to be made for food self-sufficiency!

The Farm Bureau concludes its analysis with a call for a robust and comprehensive farm bill that “could provide support to the operations most at risk and to those providing the lion’s share of the American food supply.”

What will happen if we continue to fail in supporting our farmers? Let’s look to the cocoa producers of the Ivory Coast. Bloomberg opinion columnist, Javier Blas, writes about “decades of non-investment coming home to roost,” leading to a coming meltdown of the global chocolate industry. Prices are currently spiking at $6,000 a ton, just in time for Easter.

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The problem is that investments in this industry have only flowed into the processing of beans to chocolate, rather than supporting the (overwhelmingly poor) farmers across West Africa who are responsible for 75% of the world’s cocoa production.

This means that the people who plant, grow and harvest cocoa trees have seen little to zero investment, and now a chocolate crisis is underway. Blas, who is unconvinced the shortage has anything to do with global warming, warns the market is heading for a deficit of 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes. 

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Meanwhile, the EU is stress-testing its food systems, which is a direct reflection of the growing alarms among governments over food security. Europe has already seen several expensive shocks to food security including Covid, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and shipping route disruptions. 

“Against that backdrop,” writes Yahoo’s Agnieszka de Sousa, “officials are no longer asking when a food crisis may arrive, but rather how many crises they can deal with at once.”

The stress-testing took the form of wargaming, where EU officials examined the possibility of harvest failures, impacting feed prices and curbing livestock & fish production in 2025. In this scenario, ships carrying much-needed crops avoided Europe to sell their produce to higher bidders elsewhere. They saw a limit of Asian palm oil impacting staples including margarine and bread, while the situation was exacerbated by disinformation and conspiracy theories (apparently controlling the narrative is just as important as starving populations).

It’s a good sign that European leaders are considering these possibilities. What’s certain is that very few governments in Europe and elsewhere are prepared for managing a sudden food crisis, despite the likelihood that crises are going to keep arriving faster and harder.

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Spotlight: You Won’t Catch Me on a Boeing

I won’t be spotted on a plane any time soon because I hate flying, period – I’d rather jump out of a perfectly good aircraft than try to sit still on one for a full flight. But even in a situation where I had to board a plane, there’s no way in hell you’d force me onto a Boeing. Not happening!

I’m sure Boeing isn’t the first organization to face a series of quality and safety challenges, but what makes this so newsworthy is that we’re talking about the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer – not only of commercial jetliners, but defense, space and security systems. Lives are on the line with this!

Let’s run through some of the Boeing mishaps in 2024, keeping in mind it’s still only March:

  • Boeing planes suffered a series of safety issues within a single week in early March, including a tire falling off, an engine erupting into flames over Texas, and a 737 Max 8 running off a runway.  
  • A United Airlines flight that took off from San Francisco landed in Oregon with a missing external panel.
  • In early February, Boeing announced one of its suppliers had discovered two “misdrilled holes” on some fuselages which means it will have to do more work on fifty 737 Max planes. 
  • On March 12th, a 787-9 Dreamliner flying from Sydney to Auckland encountered a “technical event which caused a strong movement,” injuring at least 50 passengers who needed treatment in New Zealand. 
  • Antony Blinken was stranded in Davos on January 18th when his modified Boeing was deemed unsafe to fly after an oxygen leak couldn’t be remedied. 
  • And, famously, a door blew out on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 MAX minutes after takeoff. This incident, more than any other, caused Boeing’s reputation (and shares) to go into freefall. 

A six-week audit of 737 Max jet production by the FAA found “dozens of problems” throughout the manufacturing process and “multiple instances” in which Boeing and its supplier (Spirit AeroSystems) failed to comply with quality control requirements.

What is yet to emerge from the multiple investigations and audits is a definitive answer as to what the heck has gone wrong at Boeing – aside from everything! Dishonest manufacturing or questionable maintenance? Poor leadership? An over-focus on DEI (Elon Musk’s theory)? All we know for certain is that journalists have been raising the alarm about reckless cost-cutting in pursuit of profits since as early as 2019

Oh – and to end this section on a dark note, you may have seen in the news that the Boeing whistleblower who was found dead last week (alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound) told a family friend: If anything happens to me, it’s not suicide.” John Barnett was a respected quality manager at Boeing from 1985 to 2017.

Nothing to see here folks but it’s interesting timing that the CEO has decided to step down!

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Technology News

What’s going on in the world of technology? Plenty. Here’s some news that caught my attention:

US deploys anti-drone laser system field test prototypes: Conflict in Ukraine and the Middle East has shown we’ve truly entered the age of drone warfare. Our forces are pretty effective at shooting down enemy drones, but there’s a big problem: we’re using extremely expensive missiles (up to $2 million each) to shoot down cheap drones that may cost only $2,000. The Directed Energy Maneuver Short Range Air Defense system, developed by RTX, is a 50-kilowatt vehicle-mounted laser designed to intercept drones, missiles, and rockets at short range.” If it works, this new system will dramatically decrease the cost of shooting down cheap enemy drones. 

OpenAI publishes Elon Musk’s emails revealing “for profit” stance: There’s been an interesting development in the catfight between Elon Musk and the board of OpenAI. Musk, who has filed a lawsuit against OpenAI “over an alleged breach in the original agreement to make AI breakthroughs freely available to the public,” was originally advocating for the exact opposite. OpenAI’s board has released a series of emails from Musk that reveal he wanted to create a for-profit entity and was spearheading early fundraising efforts. 

We may have reached peak smartphone: The smartphone market is maturing, which means the era of mad growth and heady profits may be behind us. Smartphone vendors shipped 1.17 billion devices in 2023, down from 1.47 billion units in 2016 – that’s a fall of 20%. A market analyst from IDC told Statisica that the industry, buoyed by the shift to 5G, will soon enter a “new era of low single-digit growth.” Unfortunately, unit prices still aren’t expected to drop any time soon.

Work/Life and Career Tips

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David Goggins

People to Follow

David Goggins is a Retired Navy SEAL and the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training.

David is the author of two books but his latest, “Never Finished”, offers a blueprint that readers can use to elevate themselves through life. Whether you feel off-course or are looking to realize your full potential – this is the book!

**Disclaimer – if you’re bothered by rough language or hard truths, he may not be your cup of tea.

Mike Tyson

Wisdom of the Week

“Everyone that you fight is not your enemy and everyone who helps you is not your friend.” 

Mike Tyson

The Best of Social Media

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I Love Feedback!

I want to touch on topics that get you thinking, so I’m open to hearing news stories that are catching your attention too. I would love to know what you’d like to see included in future editions of The Sidekick. If you’d like to see more, please hit the “subscribe” button below and please share with a friend. 

See you next time!

– Kris

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