Weekly Press Summary

The FT reports that the rising demand for commodities is having a dramatic impact on bulk freight rates. The Baltic Dry Index has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, soaring over 700 per cent since April 2020. Capesize rates have nearly doubled in the past month and are almost eight times last year’s average.

Although grain prices are rocketing to the moon, rice is being left behind on earth – good news for the more than 3 billion people that rely on the crop for most of their daily calories. Good harvests in Vietnam, Thailand, and India have helped keep prices relatively low. Also, as Bloomberg points out, rice is grown mainly for human consumption. In contrast, the surge in crop prices has been driven by China’s booming demand for livestock feed.

Road blockades and anti-government protests in Colombia have stopped coffee from reaching the country’s ports and halted exports during their main harvest. Nearly 50 people have died in the protests.

Still in Colombia, the country’s Coffee Growers Federation has identified six new subspecies of coffee leaf rust in the country, plus nine new variants of the fungus. Although approximately 84 per cent of Columbia’s coffee trees are disease-resistant varieties, the FNC is worried that the disease is constantly mutating.

The CME is closing – or not reopening – its last few remaining agricultural trading pits in Chicago. The Exchange had already replaced all futures transactions with electronic trading but kept its options pits open until March 2020, when it closed them due to Covid-19. The trading pits in Chicago date back 173 years; it is the end of an era.

ADM plans to build North Dakota’s first-ever dedicated soybean crushing plant and oil refinery. The plant will cost approximately $350 million and, once completed, can process 150,000 bushels of soybeans per day. ADM expect to complete the work in time for the 2023 harvest.

Cargill is expanding further in the gourmet food sector and has acquired Belgium-based Leman Decoration Group, a cake decoration company. Leman Decoration’s R&D hub is near Cargill’s House of Chocolate complex due to open in early 2022.

Glencore Agriculture in Australia has rebranded as Viterra in line with last year’s global rebrand. Viterra Australia has 800 employees and operates six ports in South Australia and one in western Victoria.

Bunge has announced that they are opening Vector – their Brazilian logistics and trucking platform – to outside companies. Vector is a joint venture between Bunge and Target, a logistics company. Bunge has been using the Vector app to digitize their in-house domestic grain trucking. Meanwhile, Bunge’s shareholders have voted for the company to evaluate and disclose its efforts to eliminate deforestation from its supply chains.

Unilever’s shareholders have voted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “as much as possible” across the company’s supply chain to reach net-zero by 2039. Unilever plans to achieve this by focusing on reducing emissions rather than purchasing and retiring carbon credits.

Competition heated up in the alternative milk sector last week when Nestlé launched a new plant-based milk product called Wunda (nothing to do with the 1988 film, The Fish Called Wanda). Nestlé will make the drink with yellow peas, and they describe the product as “epic in everything”.

Nestlé is targeting Oatly, the “Wow! No Cow!” oat milk company that recently filed for an IPO in the US that may value the company at $10 billion. In July 2020, Oatly raised $200 million from a group of star investors, including Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. At the time, the Wall Street Journal valued the company at $2 billion.

The FT takes an in-depth look at the global battle for plant-based milk. They suggest that protein content may prove key. Nestlé’s Wanda will contain 2.2g per 100ml compared to Oatly at 1g per 100ml. Cow’s milk contains 3g of protein per 100ml.

Reducing GHG emissions is one of the main arguments in favour of plant-based proteins. The FAO says animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Still, a new paper in the Journal of Ecological Society argues that once you include the impact of deforestation, the figure is closer to (a hard to believe) 87 per cent.

Argentina’s Environment Ministry has launched a “Green Mondays” campaign to encourage citizens to substitute meat with plant-based proteins. At 22 per cent, Argentina’s cattle ranching industry is the most significant contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Argentinians eat an average of 49kg of beef per year, almost twice the amount that their US neighbours eat each year.

Rolling Stone Magazine has listed eleven foods that our changing climate is already affecting. Wheat tops the list, but coffee, corn and rice also feature. A researcher from the International Food Policy Research Institute says, “It’s a race between innovation and the impacts of climate.”

But if we want to save the planet, The Guardian argues that insects are the future of food – if not for ourselves but for pet and animal feed.

Cargill seems to agree and has extended its strategic partnership with InnovaFeed to expand the use of insects in fish and animal feed, particularly for pigs. Insect fatty acids provide an 80 per cent reduction in carbon footprint compared to vegetable oils.

Talking of insects, the EU Court of Justice last week dismissed an appeal by Bayer against the European Union’s ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides. Despite the ruling, some EU nations have already partially lifted the ban, allowing sugar beet farmers to use neonicotinoids on seeds coatings through 2023.

In little-reported but good environmental news, the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory found that, due to better corn and ethanol yields, the carbon intensity of ethanol fell by 23 per cent between 2005 and 2019. Ethanol can now reduce carbon emissions by 44-52 per cent compared to gasoline.

Finally, if you are looking to learn more about regenerative agriculture – what it is and what it isn’t – I recommend this well researched and well written long read from the Counter.

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