By Maegan Vazquez and Sam Fossum, CNN
President Joe Biden on Wednesday blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for domestic price hikes and global food supply shortages, praising American farmers for being the “breadbasket of democracy” amid the war.
“America is fighting on two fronts,” Biden said during a speech in a barn in Kankakee, Illinois. “At home, it’s inflation and rising prices. Abroad, it’s helping Ukrainians defend our democracy, and feeding those who are left hungry around the world because Russian atrocities exist. … And the American farmers understand Putin’s war has cut off critical sources of food.”
The President, citing the millions of tons of Ukrainian crops that are not being exported because of the invasion, told the group of farmers and local officials in the room: “If those tons don’t get to market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death because they are the sole supplier of a number of African countries.”
He said the US needs to continue to invest in American farmers because they are the “backbone” of the economy and serve as the “breadbasket of democracy.”
Biden also announced actions intended to bolster domestic food production and lower US food costs, as part of a broader effort increase the US food supply available to export to the parts of the world dealing with shortages as a result of the war.
Specifically, the administration is rolling out new efforts to double funding for domestic fertilizer production, expand insurance eligibility for “double cropping” — the practice of harvesting two crops in the same field in the same year — and provide additional technical assistance for precision agriculture and other nutrient management tools to reduce farms’ reliance on fertilizer.
Biden’s remarks followed a tour of a farm double-cropping wheat and soybeans. The President, in his speech, spoke about the risks of double cropping, but said it was one that “we need to take.”
The new actions come amid warnings about a global food supply shortage as a result of the war in Ukraine.
The prices of key agricultural products produced in the region, especially wheat, have skyrocketed.
Russia and Ukraine together account for almost 30% of global wheat trade. And fertilizer, essential for farmers to hit their production targets for crops, has also risen in cost as output in Europe has also plunged thanks to the surging price of natural gas — a key ingredient in nitrogen-based fertilizers like urea.
Russia’s invasion has contributed to an historic shock to commodity markets that will keep global prices high through the end of 2024, according to a report from the World Bank.
Food prices will soar by 22.9% this year, highlighted by a 40% rise in wheat prices, according to the report issued late last month.
Biden assured in his remarks that his administration “can make sure that American agriculture exports will make up for the gap in Ukrainian supplies.”
And leaving the farm in Illinois, Biden told CNN that inflation is “going down,” after the latest data from the Consumer Price Index revealed that US inflation increased at a slower pace than in previous month.
“They’re going down,” Biden said. “Got a lot more to go down.”
The President did not answer whether he believes inflation has hit its peak, but his adviser offered a more tepid response Wednesday morning when the latest numbers were released.
“Certainly when you look at the top headline number, you do see this slowdown. So that is that’s better than bad news. But I’m a little hesitant to call it good news, because we don’t know, of course, where it’s going to go in the next few months,” Biden’s economic adviser, Heather Boushey, told CNN.
Later on Wednesday, when talking about inflation to union workers in Chicago, Biden said Republicans want to solve inflation by lowering Americans’ incomes. And he took a shot at former President Donald Trump, calling him the “great MAGA king.”
“Under my predecessor, the great MAGA king, the deficit increased every year that he was President,” Biden said, also arguing that the GOP does not “want to solve inflation by lowering the costs, they want to solve it by raising taxes and lowering your income.”
Biden also referred to Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s 11-point plan designed to “rescue America” as the “MAGA plan.” The President has criticized the plan for possibly raising taxes on the middle class and potentially sunsetting Social Security and Medicare every five years, requiring frequent votes to renew the programs.
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CNN’s Allie Malloy, Betsy Klein, Julia Horowitz and Matt Egan contributed to this report.