Media Monitor

Ukraine’s grain harvest could fall by 50 per cent next year, with the pace of winter-crop sowing three times slower than last year. As of 3rd October, farms had sown 1.1 mln ha of winter wheat compared with 3.1 mln planted on the same date in 2021.

Russia’s farmers have accelerated winter wheat sowing after recent rain, planting grains on 9.4 mln ha compared with 10.7 mln ha a year ago. Winter wheat typically accounts for 70 per cent of Russia’s crop. The country’s Agriculture Ministry expects Russia’s grain harvest will grow by about five mln mt next year following the annexation of four (predominantly agricultural) Ukrainian territories.

France’s drought-hit farmers predict their corn harvest will produce about ten mln mt, the lowest in 30 years.

Due to low water levels, the cost of transporting grains and oilseeds down the Mississippi river has soared nearly 80 per cent since the beginning of September and over 150 per cent since August.

Last week, the largest Mississippi barge operator declared force majeure, warning customers it won’t be able to make good on deliveries because of low water levels. A logjam of vessels threatens to bring river traffic to a halt.

Canada is also facing problems transporting its wheat because of a shortage of railcars.

A shortage of US dollars has resulted in up to 900,000 mt of wheat building up in Egyptian ports. Egypt has been increasing import spending, leaving the central bank short of foreign currency.

Kenya has lifted its ban on importing and producing GM crops following the country’s worst drought in 40 years. The authorities hope the move will improve crop yields and food security.

Some analysts expect the EU soon to lift its ban on genetically modified and gene-edited crops. The EU official handling the issue said, “we must ensure the technology is safe. Somehow, we must get the balance right.”

Others would prefer that we plant ancient grains like amaranth, quinoa, chia, bulgar, millet, sorghum, and Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Brazil should produce a record ten mln mt of wheat this season, up from a previous estimate of 9.67 mln. Brazil is currently a net wheat importer, but the government hopes to be a net exporter in ten years.

Brazil imported a record quantity of fertilisers this year. Their silos are full, and prices are sliding as farmers reduce applications. European farmers are looking at reducing fertiliser use, planting less acreage or switching crops. Even livestock farmers could be negatively affected.

The EU Commission has reduced the residue limits for two neonicotinoid pesticides, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, a move which may limit EU food and animal feed imports. The new rules come into force early in 2023, but third countries will have up to three years to adapt to the new regulations.

JBS, the world’s biggest meat producer, has pulled the plug on its US plant-based meat division Planterra Foods, maker of the OZO brand, closing a factory it opened in Denver in 2021. The company will keep its plant-based operations in Brazil and Europe. Is it a bad sign for plant-based meat? Do consumers consider fake meat too woke?

Beyond Meat doesn’t think so. It is sticking to its mission of making animal-based meat obsolete with innovations, such as its forthcoming vegan steak. Meanwhile, US firms eagerly await US government permission to start marketing lab-grown meat. They expect an announcement soon.

Plant-based milk may also be coming off the boil.

Tesco, the UK supermarket chain, has accelerated its plans to halve food waste in its operations, bringing the deadline forward from 2030 to 2025. The company has linked directors’ bonuses to achieving the goal.

Rising food prices could encourage consumers to waste less but ditching “best before” labels could also help. Wired Magazine believes the solution lies in eating your garbage – making enticing dishes out of the food you would otherwise jettison.

In shipping, Cargill plans to boost its use of biofuels in its fleet and to order methanol-fuelled ships as part of its plans to cut emissions.  Maersk has ordered a further six ocean-going container vessels with dual-fuel engines able to operate on green methanol, bringing their total order to 19 ships.

Maersk recently raised its full-year profit forecast from $24 to about $31 billion. The consultancy Drewry estimates that the entire container-shipping industry will make an operating profit of $270 billion this year, more than ten times the profit of $26 billion in 2020.

Nestlé was in the environmental news last week. The company pledged to spend more than CHF 1 billion by 2030 to source coffee sustainably, more than double the previous pledge. In a revolution for UK chocolate lovers, Nestlé will ditch the foil wrappers it has used for Quality Street for the past 86 years in favour of more environmentally-friendly paper.

The company has also scrapped the gold foil on its KitKat bars, replacing them with wrappers made with 80 per cent recycled plastic. It has also said it will stop sourcing from an Indonesian palm oil producer accused by environmental groups of land and human rights abuses.

On the financial side, Nestlé’s CEO said in an interview that the company is ready to make acquisitions in any of its business lines.

John Deere plans to build a world of fully autonomous farming by 2030, while Huawei believes smart farming is the start of sustainable food. Some argue that the future lies in vertical farming, where yields are higher than in traditional farms.

A coalition of farming and environmental groups have asked the UK government for a level playing field for food and animal welfare standards in future post-Brexit trade deals. The call follows a bitter row over the Australian deal, which the National Farmers Union (NFU) called a “betrayal” of British farmers.

As if the UK is not going through enough (many self-inflicted) difficulties, the country is suffering its worst avian flu outbreak in history. There are fears of a Christmas turkey shortage.

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