Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Food will Never Get this Cheap Again

Great article by AEP in the Telegraph analyzing the world food commodities market, which has been stuck in deflation, while other commodities are inflating. Increasing high food demand due to population growth in food-importing regions seems to guarantee high prices in the future.

The world's grain stocks have dropped from four to 2.6 months cover since 2000, despite two bumper harvests in North America. China's inventories are at a 30-year low. Asian rice stocks are near danger level. Yet farm commodities have largely missed out on Bernanke's reflation rally in metals, oil, and everything else. Dylan Grice from Société Générale sees "bargain basement" prices.

Wheat has crashed 70pc from early 2008. Corn has halved. The "Ags" have mostly drifted sideways over the last six months. This divergence within the commodity family is untenable, given the bio-ethanol linkage to oil.

The world population is adding "another Britain" every year. This will continue until mid-century. By then we will have an extra 2.4bn mouths to feed.
China and Southeast Asia are switching to animal-protein diets as they grow wealthy, as the Koreans did before them. It takes roughly 3-5kgs of animal feed from grains to produce 1kg of meat.
A report by Standard Chartered, The End of Cheap Food, said North Africa and the Middle East have already hit the buffers. The region imports 71pc of its rice and 58pc of its corn. It lacks water to boost output. The population is growing fast. It will have to import, and cross fingers.
The UN says global farm yields must rise 77pc, which means redoubling Norman Borlaug's "green revolution". It will not be easy. China's trend growth in crops yields has slipped from 3.1pc a year in the early 1960s to 0.9pc over the last decade
"We've all heard the stark anecdotes: precious topsoil weakened by over-farming, dust clouds darkening the Asian skies, parched land becoming desert and rivers running dry," said Mr Grice.
Since 2000, China has lost nearly 1,400 square miles each year to desert. Urban sprawl is paving over fertile land in the East. Water supply from Himalayan glaciers is ebbing. The Yellow River has been reduced to "an agonising trickle". It no longer reaches the sea for 200 days a year.
Farmers are draining the aquifers. Environmentalist Ma Jun says in China's Water Crisis that they are drilling as deep as 1,000 metres into non-replenishable reserves. The grain region of the Hai River Basin relies on groundwater for 70pc of irrigation.
China's water troubles are not unique. North India lives off Himalayan snows as well. Nor can we take fertiliser supply for granted any longer since "peak phosphates" threatens.

One can be Malthusian about this. Grizzled commodity guru Jim Rogers certainly is. "The world is going to have a period when we cannot get food at any price, in some parts." He advises youth to opt for a farm degree rather than an MBA, if they want to make serious money.


  1. My holiday gift to blogs I follow is to write a comment about what I love about the blog.

    This blog is awesome! I feel so clueless gardening in the desert--even after living here 30 years! I need the incentive and encouragement and especially knowledge that others are making it happen. Thanks so much! Keep it up!

  2. Thanks, Autumn! Glad you enjoy it, hopefully I can get my new garden up soon and get back to posting more regularly again.