Weekly News Summary

The UN FAO monthly food price index has reached its highest since 2011, up 6 per cent so far this year and up 40 per cent versus a year ago. The Bloomberg Agriculture Spot Index is up 70 per cent in the past year.

Ahead of its first-ever Food Systems Summit in September 2021, the UN has launched a ‘Transformative Partnership Platform’ on agroecology (regenerative agriculture). The UN has called for a transformation in the global food system to end hunger and reverse the environmental degradation caused by farming.

The worst drought in 20 years is affecting almost three-fourths of the western US. Mountains across the West have seen little precipitation, robbing reservoirs of snowmelt.

Following the cyberattack on meat giant JBS SA, Bloomberg argues that giant food companies have become ‘sitting ducks’ for hacker groups. The news agency blames the recent wave of consolidation in the sector. However, the major trading companies have been aware of the risk for some time. JBS’s plants are only slowly recovering after the attack.

One example of this consolidation is Poet Biorefining. Already the largest ethanol producer in the US with a capacity of two billion gallons per annum across 27 plants, the company has acquired the bioethanol assets of Flint Hills Resources, the US’s fifth-largest biofuels producer. The acquisition includes six bioprocessing facilities located in Iowa and Nebraska and two terminals in Texas and Georgia.

This consolidation may be occurring in a shrinking market for ethanol as drivers witch to electric vehicles. The Star Tribune asks whether US farmers are ready for a world without ethanol, a fuel that currently absorbs 40 per cent of US corn production.

Meat companies may also be wondering how to grow their businesses in what may become a declining market. Cargill’s CEO has warned that in ‘three to four years plant-based (meat) will be perhaps 10 per cent of the meat market.’

The FT writes that the buzz around insects is growing. VC funding to the insect protein sector has been creeping up since 2018, with $210m in equity investments last year. The most significant investments are going to start-ups focused on feeding livestock, fish and pets.

The Guardian is concerned about the falling number of farms in the US, particularly in the dairy sector, where there has been a 55 per cent drop between 2002 and 2019. The dairy herd increased over the same period, explained, in part, by increased demand for cheese and butter. US per capita cheese consumption has risen 25 per cent since the early 2000s, while butter consumption is rising even faster.

The US is forecast to export a record $37.2bn worth of farm goods to China this year, 23 per cent of total US agricultural exports. Cargill’s CEO says that China will continue to import and their feed grain industry is unlikely to become self-sufficient despite government efforts to ramp up domestic production. “They need to depend on trade,” he said.

Goldman Sachs has warned that China’s attempts to dampen rising commodity prices are likely to fail in the long term. However, China is not the only country struggling to control food price inflation. Russia is trying to manage their domestic supplies through export restrictions on grain and price caps on other food commodities. At the same time, Russia is looking to build a new berth and increase silo capacity for grain transshipments in Novorossiysk.

Cocoa hit the news last week with the upcoming US Supreme Court case against Cargill and Nestlé.  Former plantation workers claim the two companies were complicit in human rights violations in cocoa production in Ivory Coast.

Meanwhile, the FT looks at Ghana’s plans to capture a larger share of the value chain by exporting more chocolate and fewer beans. The FT estimates that the world’s cocoa farmers retain only 7 per cent of the value chain.

The FT also looks at how Nestlé can move on from their ‘unhealthy food’ problem. Nestlé is trying to manage the fallout from last week’s leaked internal document that showed that 60 per cent of its product lines fail to meet health standards. The company says that the true figure is less than 30 per cent and that the media took the news out of context.

Cargill has announced that it is building a $200-million palm oil refinery in Indonesia. It hopes to complete construction in late 2022. The company said the new refinery is part of a push to oversee its palm oil supply chain “from plantation to customer”.

Maersk has warned of increased congestion and vessel delays in ports in Southern China. Further positive COVID cases have been confirmed in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, where major ports are located.

The UK is expected to soon remove EU-imposed restrictions on gene editing, such as CRISPR, in plants and animals.

This week’s ‘long read’ concerns over-fishing: how government subsidies encourage it and what to do about it.

Finally, ex-floor traders continue to regret the end of open outcry trading in Chicago. Some suggest that price volatility has increased since the industry moved to electronic trading.

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