Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

New York hosted the annual UN meeting last week, along with Climate Week, and the Brazilian President used his speech to highlight that Brazil successfully ramped up food production to meet a growing export demand. He also claimed that his government was a victim of “brutal disinformation campaigns” concerning the Amazon and Pantanal, as he highlighted new measures taken to protect the environment. Nonetheless, local experts were quick to highlight that these rules were rarely enforced, while Brazil’s own space agency published data suggesting that deforestation in the Amazon reached a 14-year high in the year ending in July. 

Fires in the Amazon and Pantanal could potentially lead to the end of trade negotiations between the EU and Mercosur. The French government issued a list of three demands before it would agree to continue negotiating a free-trade deal. The list highlights the importance of meeting the Paris agreement and fighting deforestation. Other EU nations, namely Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium, have also expressed concerns.

Food producers in the region are being proactive to protect their image on the international stage, however. The world’s largest meatpacker, JBS, announced a USD 183 million investment to help develop the Amazon and fight deforestation. The company also pledged to eventually monitor 100% of its indirect cattle supply chain, as it noted that no company currently does so. Seventeen brands behind the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) also used Climate Week to announce the creation of the Forest Positive Coalition of Action. Food firms like Mondelez, Nestle and Unilever, pledged to intensify efforts to end deforestation. 

Supply-chain traceability has been a goal of the industry for a while now but it can take years to achieve because of “fragmented farming systems and lack of infrastructure”, according to the CEO of Olam Cocoa. The firm published an update to its 5-year old effort to increase traceability across nine cocoa-producing countries. Olam can now trace 100% of its direct supply chain and 12% of the global cocoa supply to an individual farm or community. The topic might actually gain traction with the coronavirus pandemic, as a Kellogg director said the firm had noted that interest in the environment and social issues was accelerating

The coronavirus pandemic will lower the volume and value of Australian exports because of the lower demand for certain products, according to a government agency. Moreover, trade relations with China have been deteriorating, with the country imposing prohibitive duties on Australian wheat and increasing inspections. Australian producers are hoping to adapt by finding new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand. Soybean processors in Brazil are facing the opposite problem, meanwhile, as a surge in export demand is putting pressure on stocks despite a bumper crop. As a result, Brazil’s soybean imports might reach the highest since 2003. Sources reported that Bunge was now buying soybean from Uruguay to supply its plant in Rio Grande, Brazil. 

The EU is looking to create financial incentives to push farmers to focus on carbon-capture crops. The Commission recently argued that while agricultural emissions “can never be fully eliminated under existing technology and management options, they can be significantly reduced”. Some of the proposals include financing crop rotations and afforestation. Norway is also doubling down on its carbon-capture ambitions, as it will spend EUR 1.54 billion to fund two-thirds of a massive project, which had failed a decade ago because of cost issues. 

Tech enthusiasts are highlighting the potential of vertical farming to lower the carbon footprint of agriculture. Some firms, like Square Roots, also emphasise that container farming allows them to perfectly control temperature, light and fertiliser application to create the best tasting products. Nonetheless, this investigation concluded that the claim was “more marketing than science”, mostly because sensory scientists are still working on what makes food taste good, while focusing only on taste could negatively impact yields or shelf-life. In the end, an expert reiterated that “if you just leave a consumer panel to their own devices, they’ll typically choose whatever is sweetest.”

Beyond creating the best tasting products, supporters of vertical farming argue that the technology will be key in the age of space exploration. At the same time, scientists are making impressive progress in farming crops on simulation Martian and lunar soils. Unlike what some Hollywood movies would like us to believe, however, potatoes actually struggle in space soils, while kale actually grows better than on Earth soil. And in case you were wondering, yes, the researchers are experimenting with growing barley and hops that could be used to make space beer

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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