The FAO Index of world food prices rose 1.2 per cent in September to hit a decade long high.
Grains rose 2 per cent, driven by wheat, while vegetable oils rose 1.7 per cent on strong demand for palm oil and concerns about worker shortages in Malaysia. An FAO economist told Bloomberg, “It’s this combination of things that’s beginning to get very worrying. It’s not just the isolated food-price numbers, but all of them together.”
Reuters writes that global food prices were 32.8 per cent higher in September than one year ago. CBS reports that US wholesale food prices jumped 8.3 per cent from August this year compared to August 2020 — the most significant gain for more than a decade. An industry analyst told CBS, “We haven’t seen anything yet. Prices are going to continue to go up for a good year and a half.”
Fertilizer prices hit record highs last week, suggesting further food price increases. The cost of natural gas, the primary feedstock for most nitrogen fertilizer, has soared in Europe and China, and some manufacturers have shut plants or reduced production, resulting in shortages.
Cotton hit the mainstream media last week when CNN reported that prices had hit a ten-year high after droughts and heat waves damaged US cotton crops. US clothing prices climbed 4.2 per cent last year, and there are concerns that they will rise even faster next year.
There is some good news on the freight front. AgWeb quotes data from Shifl that show China/U.S. spot container rates dropped by $9,000 – down 51 per cent between September and October. Demand could be down with China slowing production due to a power crisis, but AgWeb warns that issues remain due to a growing backlog of unfulfilled orders.
The FT believes that container rates could fall further despite continuing port congestion on the US West Coast. Business Insider feels that the world’s supply chain problems are easing, while FreightWaves believes we haven’t yet seen the worst.
Meanwhile, bulk rates are rising again, pulled up by increased demand for coal shipments. Spot rates for Capesize vessels have topped $80,000 per day for the first time since 2009, and Supramax rates have risen above $35,000 per day.
Maersk is working on improving the fuel efficiency of their ships and may introduce Silverstream’s Air Lubrication System, which creates a carpet of microbubbles that coat the entire flat bottom of the vessel, reducing friction and resistance between the hull and the water. Silverstream says it reduces fuel consumption by 5-10 per cent. Maersk may use the system on their recently ordered methane-powered vessels. (All we need now is to find a way to capture the methane from cows and use it as fuel!)
The FT explains why cows have risen to the forefront of the debate over global warming and what farmers do to alleviate the problem. The newspaper writes that the 1.5 billion cattle on the planet produce seven gigatonnes of GHG emissions per year, or 60 per cent of livestock emissions, with almost 40 per cent coming in the form of methane, which is about 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming.
In a separate article, the FT explains what Brazilian farmers are doing to improve their environmental footprint. It highlights the role of ag-tech start-ups in precision agriculture, biological replacements for pesticides and fertilizers, and methane reduction from cattle.
Democrats in the US Congress have introduced new legislation, the FOREST Act of 2021, to reduce illegal deforestation globally by restricting the trade of certain agricultural commodities, such as palm oil, cocoa, soy and cattle products, and rubber and wood. The legislation has attracted little Republican support and is unlikely to pass.
Nestlé is launching plant-based substitutes for eggs and shrimp to complement the company’s existing vegan product line that includes plant-based tuna, burgers, and sausages. The egg substitute contains soy protein and omega-3 fatty acids and can be scrambled or used as an ingredient in cakes and cookies. A Nestlé official told the BBC, “We think less meat and dairy is good for the planet, but it’s also good for diet and health, and it is also a big commercial opportunity.”
Bloomberg Green has a long read on the fuel versus food debate, focussing on India’s ethanol policy. The news agency argues that it’s a vital issue in a country where about 209 million Indians, or about 15 per cent of its population, were undernourished between 2018 and 2020.
Indonesia has conducted its first test flight using a jet fuel containing 2.4 per cent of palm, flying more than 100 km from Jakarta to Bandung. The country has the mandate to increase the palm oil content in aviation fuel to 5 per cent by 2025. Indonesia also has a mandatory biodiesel programme for road transport with 30 per cent palm oil content. The government is keen to expand the use of vegetable oil for energy and slash fuel imports.
And in Kenya, Reuters looks at the benefits of using locally produced sugarcane ethanol for cooking rather than the traditionally used charcoal, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas.
Last week we reported on the biggest greenhouse in Europe. This week, CNN reports on the biggest greenhouse in the US, situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Built in 2020 and set across 60 acres, the greenhouse yields 30 times more per acre than open fields while using 90 per cent less water.
Finally, global warming might mean we can one day drink coffee from the world’s most northern coffee plantation in Sicily. Unfortunately, the project will take years before it can reach large-scale production. Farmers first tried to grow coffee on the island more than 100 years ago, but a cold winter in 1912 killed the trees.
© Commodity Conversations ® 2021
Some of the above links require subscriptions. Please support quality journalism.