The Precedented Wheat Shortage

There’s an excellent analysis of the last time the port of Odessa was impeded, resulting in a wheat shortage, by Nicholas Lambert at the U. S. Naval Institute which sounds remarkably similar to what’s happening now. Here are the conclusions he draws from it:

First, doing nothing in the face of rising grain prices may not be an option, but the risks of action should be understood and acknowledged. Sending in the Navy, for escort duties or mine-sweeping, would be a protracted and high-risk operation with serious danger of escalation.


The second lesson is that the United States should check before agreeing to support any operation premised on assertions that Ukrainian wheat is available for export from Odessa and more is on the way. It seems clear that some Ukrainian wheat is sitting in ports—but are the handling facilities working? Are the quays clear? And has the rail infrastructure, normally used to move wheat from farm to port, survived the Russian onslaught (which has targeted transportation networks)? The pump may be primed, but will the engine fire? The grain in ports is only one part of the supply chain—a concept we have heard a great deal about in other contexts, but very little about in this one.

He concludes that it is more likely that we will repeat the mistakes of 1915 rather than taking the lessons that might be learned to heart.

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