Commodity Conversations News Monitor

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” So wrote Aeschylus, a Greek tragic dramatist, in the 5th century BCE.  His words are as valid now as they were then. In the western world, we are fortunate to have strong independent media. We should never take it for granted.

Commodity exports from the Black Sea have been thrown into chaos after Russia’s invasion forced ports and railways to close. Ships loading in Ukraine have been told they will be allowed to leave, but those waiting to berth can’t dock. A missile hit a vessel in Ukrainian waters but sailed into Rumanian waters unaided. At least one other ship has suffered damage.

Bunge and ADM have suspended operations in Ukraine following the invasion, and some European banks have imposed restrictions on commodity-trade finance linked to Russia and Ukraine. At least two of China’s largest state-owned banks are also restricting financing for Chinese purchases of Russian commodities.

Chicago corn and wheat prices surged following the invasion, and analysts worry that the sky is now the limit for food inflation. Unsurprisingly, investors are pumping more money into commodity funds than at any time in the last decade.

China confirmed that it had lifted restrictions on the imports of Russian wheat, a decision taken before the winter Olympics in Beijing.

Russia is a significant fertiliser exporter, and prices for nitrogen fertiliser in New Orleans surged 25 per cent following the invasion. Fertiliser shortages may hit the US growing season, and the US Agriculture Secretary warned fertiliser companies against taking an “unfair advantage” of the Ukraine conflict.

A backlog of vessels waiting to load soybeans from some Brazilian ports is stretching to near-record lengths, with some ships waiting for more than 40 days, significantly longer than the seven to 15 days that’s typical. Meanwhile, ADM has shipped a record (for the port) 84,802 tonnes of soybeans in a single vessel from the Ponta da Montanha Grain Terminal (TGPM) in the northern Brazilian city of Barcarena.

The Loadstar has a well-written piece that asks whether the container shipping crisis is coming to an end. The US Transportation Department is awarding $450 million in grants for US port-related projects to bolster capacity and improve the movement of goods. Platts hosts a discussion on potential applications for ammonia as a maritime fuel.

The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange has warned that Argentina’s crop yields for corn and soybeans could continue to fall owing to a lack of rain. Paraguay’s oilseed processors are lobbying the government to allow duty-free soybean imports for the first time to keep their mills running as a drought slashes local production.

Bunge has signed a definitive agreement with Chevron to create a 50/50 joint venture to produce renewable fuels and develop lower carbon intensity feedstocks. The financial terms of the transaction, first announced in September 2021, were not disclosed.

The US EPA has told Reuters that it is committed to increasing the use of biofuels, but the industry is still anxiously awaiting the administration to finalise specific blending goals.

Hydrous ethanol sales in the Center-South region of Brazil rose 22 per cent in the first half of February compared with the same period a month earlier, a trend that may continue with energy prices rising.

Beyond Meat is not real meat, but it bleeds cash. The company’s stock dropped 11 per cent after it reported losses of $80.4 million in the last three months of 2021 — more than triple the loss of a year before. The company blamed weak US retail sales, increased discounts, and a loss of market share. An analyst from J.P. Morgan called Beyond Meat “the worst performer in our universe in the last year.”

Draft new rules (seen by Bloomberg) would allow victims to sue for compensation in a proposed EU crackdown on human rights abuses and environmental breaches in supply chains. Right on cue, the World Economic Forum writes that mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence are now essential for any business.

Ivory Coast’s cocoa regulator, Le Conseil du Cafe-Cacao, plans to start a pilot program in April to trace cocoa from plantation to ports. For years, agronomists have told cocoa and coffee farmers in West Africa to uproot trees from their fields. This video (in French) argues that advice is misguided and explains how trees fertilise and protect surrounding crops.

The Inter-American Development Bank has shelved a plan to lead a $200 million syndicated loan for Marfrig Global Foods amid growing concern over deforestation in the Amazon.

The US and the UAE are seeking an additional $4 billion investment for the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) on top of the $4 billion that they agreed when they launched the initiative last November.

The sustainability charity Wrap has asked supermarkets to stop selling fresh produce in plastic packaging. They argue that it does not make them last longer and adds to pollution and food waste. Next week, world governments will gather in Nairobi to discuss a global treaty to combat plastic waste.

The UK’s National Farming Union President has warned that farmers in England and Wales ‘face toughest times in a generation’. She said that government ministers “have no understanding of how food production works” and have introduced “completely contradictory policies” through the lack of a post-Brexit plan for UK farming.

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The head of Cargill’s World Trading Group has said that soybean prices could hit all-time highs. Cargill estimates US carryout stocks are “significantly lower” than USDA’s figures and feels that 27 to 28 million mt of S. American soybean production have been lost.

Dry weather and little hope of significant rains in Argentina’s soy belt are igniting fears of a repeat of 2018 when drought drove the harvest to below 38 million mt. The current forecast is for 40.5 million mt.

Chinese importers have washed out about ten cargoes of Brazilian beans in the past week as several soybean crushing plants in China have suspended operations due to poor/negative margins.

After a fire broke out, Louis Dreyfus briefly suspended operations at its Claypool, Indiana, soybean processing and biodiesel plant. No employees were injured, and the fire was quickly extinguished.

The first two months of 2022 are the driest January and February in Californian history, prompting state officials to warn of dire water shortages. The drought in the western US is the worst in at least 1,200 years

California is looking to reduce methane emissions by cutting food waste. It accounts for 20 per cent of the state’s methane emissions, third behind dairy manure and cow burbs. Meanwhile, European farmers are increasingly looking at opportunities to use their soils as carbon sinks as various startups enter the sector.

The USDA has restarted its avocado inspection program in Mexico, and avocado exports to the US have resumed. The USDA had earlier suspended imports after a US plant safety inspector received a threat. Activists claim that Mexico’s avocado producers must pay protection money to drug cartels.

India will extend a reduction in customs duty on edible oils to the end of September. India has also cut its tax on crude palm oil imports to 5 per cent from 7.5 per cent. The FT has a nice article on the Nigerian government’s plans to boost domestic agriculture and palm oil production.

HMM, a South Korean shipping company, has reported a $4.4 billion net profit for 2021, compared with just $100 million in 2020, as sales more than doubled to $11.5 billion. The carrier returned to the black in Q3 2020 after being on the brink of bankruptcy.

The European Association for Forwarding, Transport, Logistics and Customs Services (CLECAT) has sent a letter to the EU Commission, asking for an investigation into the container shipping sector, alleging unfair and discriminatory practices.

A new study estimates that the world spends at least $1.8 trillion a year on subsidies that contribute to ecosystem destruction and species extinction. Of that amount, $520 billion goes to agriculture and $155 billion to forestry. The Guardian asks why the world is still funding the destruction of nature through misdirected and unthought out farm subsidies.

Another new study argues that ethanol is 24 per cent more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions from land-use changes, along with processing and combustion. The US RFA said the study was “completely fictional and erroneous” and the authors used “worst-case assumptions [and] cherry-picked data.”

US biofuel producers have asked Congress for tax credits under the Build Back Better program to help boost the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

After surging 53 per cent in 2020, sales of plant-based meats increased only 1 per cent in 2021. Bloomberg looks at how the sector is reacting by collaborating with processed food producers.

Bayer has declared force majeure on sales of glyphosate to industrial customers after a critical supplier ran into manufacturing problems. Repairs at the supplier could take about three months.

Bloomberg Green has an interesting article on Chinese gene-edited seawater rice. It’s more resistant to saline and alkali than standard rice varieties – and has a slightly higher yield. Meanwhile, researchers have developed gene-edited wheat resistant to powdery mildew, one of the most damaging pathogens for wheat farmers.

Nestlé has reported its strongest growth in developed markets in a decade. Sales rose 7.5 per cent, with a 2-percentage point rise coming from price increases. Coffee was the most significant contributor to growth. The company said profitability might decline in 2022, warning that raw material and shipping costs will probably increase.  The CEO said the company would be “open to do a big deal” after selling $10 billion of shares in L’Oréal.

The Daily Beast has a long read on how organic food could doom the future of farming – something that I have been pondering for a while.

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Russia has reportedly pulled back on the idea of a naval blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, although naval exercises in the Black Sea continue to impact grain shipments. However, the situation remains uncertain and could stay that way for a while. Russia and Ukraine account for more than 25 per cent of global wheat shipments, and markets moved higher last week on invasion fears. The FT writes that food and fertilizer will become the next friction point between Russia and the EU.

Canadian police are slowly removing protestors blocking the Ambassador Bridge, one of the main border crossings into the US. Some companies are turning to air transport to avoid the blockade.

The USDA has launched its Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program and will invest $1 billion to promote farming, ranching and forestry practices that cut greenhouse gas emissions or capture and store carbon.

One in three people across America has detectable levels of a toxic herbicide 2,4-D. The herbicide was developed in the 1940s, but its popularity dipped in favour of Roundup (glyphosate). It has seen a resurgence since the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds.

In their latest Land of Plenty Report, the UK WWF has called for the UK government to invest more in regenerative agriculture, arguing that it could slash emissions equivalent to taking 900,000 cars off the roads.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon totalled 430 square kilometres in January, five times more than January 2021. New clearing in January was still less than half of what is common during the peak months from June to September.

In Colombia’s Amazon region, fires suggest rising deforestation for ranching and illegal mining. The burning is occurring in Caqueta, Meta and Guaviare provinces, where it creeps into national parks and parts of the Amazon rainforest.

More than 1,000 sq km of Amazon rainforest has been felled to grow soya in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso since the Amazon soy moratorium was signed in 2006. However, degradation in the Amazon Forest was responsible for more carbon loss than deforestation between 2010 and 2019.

The Chinese government’s recently released guidelines of gene-edited crops should boost research into new wheat varieties. Meanwhile, China wants to become a world leader in sustainable agriculture.

Recent data shows China missed its commitments to purchase an additional $200 billion worth of US farm and manufactured goods, energy and services under the Phase 1 trade deal agreed with President Trump

Tyson Foods uses as much as 10 million acres of farmland to produce corn and soybeans to feed the more than 2 billion animals it processes every year in the US alone, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Bunge reported a 17.1 per cent jump in quarterly profit as large oilseed crops in North America and Europe and strong demand for processed meal and oil bolstered its core agribusiness unit. The company forecast that the strength would carry into 2022 but warned that it would likely not match last year’s record performance.

Indonesia has expanded the scope of a January ruling, which required suppliers to declare their export plans of crude palm oil olein and used cooking oil, to include all palm oil products.

The soaring cost of vegetable oils makes it harder for India to bring inflation under control. Palm oil prices have jumped 15 per cent this year, while soybean oil has gained 12 per cent. India’s consumer food price index rose in December at the fastest pace in six months. The Indian government has tried to rein in domestic vegoil prices by reducing import taxes, imposing stockpile limits and suspending futures trading in edible oils and oilseeds.

Bloomberg feels that the rise in vegoil prices is a sure sign that food inflation could go higher, although palm oil prices saw some profit-taking last week.

The UN FAO has warned that the overexploitation of fish in West Africa by the growing global fishmeal and fish oil industry is having a “considerably negative impact” on food security, undermining the ability of local communities to feed themselves.

Exchange certified stocks of arabica coffee beans have fallen to their lowest level since February 2000, mainly because it’s more attractive for Brazilian producers to sell into the domestic market rather than pay high shipping costs to deliver the commodity at the exchange.

Jordan wants to kick start domestic agriculture and regain food sovereignty by planting wheat on abandoned farmland.

The price of lumber has risen nearly 30 per cent so far in February, hitting $1,204.90 per thousand board feet. Still, lumber is 30 per cent below its record high of $1,711 reached in May 2021.

A fight is brewing in Mexico over corn imports. In December 2020, the Mexican president issued a decree banning the import of GM corn for human consumption by 2024. The US argues that the ban will violate the USMCA free trade deal.

The World Shipping Council has published what it believes are the regulatory and economic steps that the International Maritime Organization must take for the shipping industry to achieve zero carbon emissions.

Shipping lines added a record 7.2m teu, or 14 per cent, to the global container equipment fleet last year, taking it to 50.5m teu.

Reuters finds signs that the global supply chain crisis could finally start to unwind towards the end of this year. However, trade channels have become so clogged up it could be well into next year before the worst-hit industries see business remotely as usual.

Central banks are also worried that supply chain problems will continue through 2022 and that the container line’s record profits will translate into higher inflation. Although some suggest that US port congestion may have peaked, Maersk CEO’s has said that supply chain issues are not getting much better.

Maersk has acquired US-based forwarder Pilot Freight Services for $1.8 billion, the latest in a string of acquisitions transforming the company into a global logistics outfit.

The container shipping company Danaos reported a sevenfold increase in net income in 2021 at $1.05 billion. Danaos was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2018.

The shipping companies’ massive profits are fuelling resentment and criticism of the sector’s concentration and alliances.

Shares in European food delivery firms have fallen sharply, with investors losing patience with continual losses and rising costs.

The UK government has announced a review of the pig industry supply chain in response to a worsening crisis in the sector where an estimated 200,000 pigs are backed up on farms, unable to be taken to slaughter.

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The UN FAO Food Price Index hit eleven-year highs in January, led by gains in vegetable oils and dairy prices, partially offset by a decline in sugar prices. Meat and cereal prices remained essentially unchanged. The NY Times worries that high food prices could lead to social unrest, while Bloomberg is concerned about the cost of meat, soybeans, coffee, and avocados.

China has removed restrictions on wheat and barley imports. The countries plan to reach a similar deal next year on peas. Leading wheat exporters to China, such as France, Canada, and Australia, may see their share of the China market fall. Russia has expanded in several other wheat markets in recent months, gaining a more significant stake in Saudi Arabia and Algeria.

Egypt may replace a bread subsidy with cash payments for the poor in the face of soaring wheat prices. Nearly two-thirds of the population get five loaves of bread per day for 50 cents a month, little changed since the 1970’s “bread riots”.

National Geographic reports on a new study on how climate change and agronomy improve US corn yields more than genetics. The New York Times invites us to meet the lobbyists who protect the farmers who are killing the planet while Fee reveals the ‘dark truth about America’s agricultural system.’

The CEO of plant-based protein company Impossible Foods made the headlines last week when he estimated in a report that eliminating animal agriculture over the next 15 years would essentially halt the increase of greenhouse gases for the next 30 years. Although the report was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Climate, other scientists called it extreme, implausible, and unrealistic.

But is it plausible for plant-based meat to reach price-parity with real meat by 2023? The Good Food Institute (GFI) believes it can.

Even so, all-meat companies remain popular among short-sellers, with some analysts predicting further falls in their stock prices.

Britain’s pig industry says it faces collapse due to a shortage of butchers and a backlog in slaughtering more than 170,000 pigs. The sector also faces declining demand as more consumers move to plant-based diets.

Vox argues that billions of animals are slaughtered each year just to be wasted, citing statistics from the EPA report (published last November) entitled ‘From Farm to Kitchen- the Environmental Impacts of US Food Waste’.

Meatpacking company JBS has agreed to a $52.5 million settlement in a beef price-fixing lawsuit. Colorado-based JBS didn’t admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement,

Environmental groups have petitioned the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to exclude dairy farmers from the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). They argue that paying farmers for methane encourages them to produce more.

Recently, there has been much in the press about feeding seaweed to cattle to reduce their methane emissions, but there has been little research on how seaweed farming might damage marine environments. Seaweed is also difficult and expensive to process and distribute.

In what could be one of the biggest explosions ever to occur in the US, a massive fire broke out at a North Carolina fertilizer plant containing roughly 600 tons of ammonium nitrate.

The Indian government is negotiating with Russia for the long-term supply of fertilizers. India aims to lock in 1 million tonnes a year each of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and potash, and about 800,000 tonnes a year of a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (NPK).

Meanwhile, research continues into using microbes and seaweed as replacements for synthetic fertilizers.

In company news, Nestle will acquire a majority stake in Orgain, a maker of plant-based protein powders and other products. Financial details weren’t disclosed. Nestle has the option to fully acquire Orgain in 2024.

Tugboats have freed one of the world’s biggest container ships, the Mumbai Maersk, which had run aground off the German island of Wangerooge in the North Sea. The ship was on its way from Rotterdam to Bremerhaven.

Container shipping companies had their best quarter ever and expect to report extraordinary profits through 2022. Although port congestion is curtailing volumes, rates have risen so much that carrier profits keep escalating. As a result, shipping firms are paying their workers bonuses up to three years’ salary.

The world’s largest mozzarella maker also expects shipping disruptions to hinder agricultural exporters throughout 2022.

The USDA is helping to fund a new container yard for agricultural exports at California’s Port of Oakland to ease port congestion. The project is set to open in March.

However, a slowdown in China’s steel production is curbing demand for bulk ships to transport iron ore, driving a steady decline in bulk freight rates. The Baltic Exchange’s Dry Index has fallen 75 per cent in the past four months.

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Viterra has announced it will acquire the Gavilon grains and ingredients (but not its fertiliser) business from Marubeni for $1.13 billion plus working capital. Marubeni bought Gavilon for $2.7 billion in 2013 expects to get as much as $3.51 billion from the sale. The FT wonders whether it will lead Viterra to IPO while Javier Blas gives his take on the acquisition here.

Agricultural commodity traders are worried about a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Agweb has a couple of articles on what conflict might mean for world markets. Bloomberg looks at how Russia’s past actions have impacted trade flows and how an invasion might restrict trade. It also looks at how India is diversifying sunflower oil imports away from Ukraine, their biggest supplier. Meanwhile, Ukrainian corn has been going as far afield as Indonesia.

Agricensus looks at what might happen to Russia’s grain exports if the world cuts the country off from the SWIFT payment system. Any disruptions to Russian exports could prove a boon for French wheat exporters who have been losing export share to Russia.

There are no signs that India’s vegoil appetite will fall anytime soon. Domestic consumption should climb by as much as 17 per cent over the next four years.

Conflict could lead to higher food prices. A researcher at Mintec tells Bloomberg she sees agricultural commodity prices beginning to peak and likely retreating into the second half of 2022. Still, it could take until at least 2023 before consumers feel the benefit. Reuters also thinks we may have to wait for 2023 for prices to ease.

Insurance payments to US farmers due to drought rose more than 400 per cent between 1995 and 2020 to $1.65 billion, while payments due to excess moisture rose nearly 300 per cent to $2.61 billion. The federal government pays about 60 per cent of the nation’s crop insurance premiums through taxpayer subsidies.

Brazil’s Parana State estimates its 2021/22 soybean crop at 12.83 million tonnes, down 35 per cent from 2020/21 and below a previous projection of 18.4 million tonnes, due to low rainfall and high temperatures provoked by La Nina. The weather phenomenon has also led South Africa’s farmers to plant less acreage after record rainfall curtailed sowings.

Farmers in Brazil, Argentina and the US are holding back crop sales in expectation of higher prices. The three countries account for more than three-quarters of global corn and soybean exports.

But it is not just food prices that are soaring. Cotton has hit new ten-year highs for the fourth time in five months.

CNN worries that rising food prices are hurting those that can least afford them and calls for the US Fed to raise interest rates to dampen inflation expectations.

Higher interest rates won’t solve the labour shortage in Malaysia’s palm oil sector, where output has fallen to a five-year low. Foreign workers make up around 85 per cent of the labour force on plantations.

Thailand’s government is concerned about the impact that higher palm oil prices will have on the country’s consumers while recognising the benefits accruing to farmers. Higher palm oil prices may spur the search for alternatives.

China Dialogue has a well-presented feature on palm oil sustainability, focusing on Wilmar and the RSPO. Reuters has a long-read on sustainable palm oil in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah. Swiss researchers have published the results of the OPAL Project, a six-year study into sustainable palm oil. The study focused on three oil palm growing countries: Cameroon, Colombia, and Indonesia.

Fox News worries that high US fertiliser prices will reduce production this season. They write that a fertiliser bag that cost $11 in 2021 now sells for about $20. However, US wholesale fertiliser prices have fallen to levels last seen last October. Things could change quickly if the world imposes sanctions on Russia, a significant nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash exporter.

India will allocate about 3 trillion rupees ($40 billion) on food and fertiliser subsidies in its budget for 2022/23, roughly the same amount as in the fiscal year 2021/22 ending March.

Kula Bio, a Boston-based start-up, has raised $50 million to accelerate production for their next-generation nitrogen fertiliser that uses bacteria to remove nitrogen from the air and deposit it in soil.

In little-reported news, Sri Lanka’s government will give about $200 million in compensation to the country’s rice farmers whose crops failed under a botched scheme to establish the world’s first 100-per cent organic farming nation. The government last year banned imports of agricultural chemicals leading to about a third of Sri Lanka’s agricultural land being left dormant. The government reversed the ban last October.

Canada’s cattle ranchers continue to struggle to feed their herds due to the country’s recent drought-reduced grain crop, Covid-related restrictions on US truck shipments and capacity restraints on rail movements.

There was another flurry of anti-meat articles last week, with this one summarising the environmental arguments for going vegan.

A new report in the Journal of Ecological Society argues that animal agriculture is responsible for at least 87 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. It says that earlier studies have underestimated the environmental impact of livestock farming and have failed to include the negative impact of forests lost to animal agriculture.

Greenpeace Brazil reports that up to 80 per cent of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is due to cattle ranching. Storebrand, a $120bn Nordic asset manager, has placed ADM and Bunge on its “observation list” for moving too slowly to eliminate deforestation risk from their supply chains.

Human Rights Watch has written an open letter asking the EU Commission to include land rights in their upcoming regulations restricting imports of any commodities that have contributed to deforestation.

The Economist posted a video on LinkedIn about alternative meat, but the FT wonders whether the demand for alt-meat has peaked. After a 46 per cent rise in 2020, US sales of plant-based meat fell 0.5 per cent in 2021.

The Chinese government has released its official Five-Year Agricultural Plan (in mandarin). It mentions cultivated meat for the first time and suggests that producing it is in the national interest.

The EU has implemented a ban on giving antibiotics to healthy animals. The Guardian is upset that the UK has not done the same.

A new study finds that climate change will make it harder for farmers to grow coffee, cashew, and avocado. CNN is particularly concerned about what that might mean for coffee lovers. You can find the BBC’s take on the report here.

China has published draft rules for gene-edited plants. It could now take only a year or two to get approval for a gene-edited plant compared with around six years for GM ones. Last November, Beijing passed new regulations for genetically modified (GM)crops.

Nestlé has announced a major – perhaps game-changing – initiative in cocoa sourcing. The company will triple its cocoa sustainability funding to $1.4 billion over eight years, including direct pay-outs to African cocoa farmers to remove child labour from its supply chain.

ADM reported a record fourth-quarter profit and said it would continue to benefit from solid demand for crops and biofuel in 2022. ADM’s net earnings rose to $782 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, up from $687 million a year earlier. (You can access the earnings call deck here.)

Walmart is investing in the vertical farming start-up Plenty and will start carrying its leafy greens in all California stores this year. The investment is part of a $400 million funding round.

In shipping news, MSC, the world’s largest container-shipping company, is looking to buy ITA Airways, the successor to the defunct Alitalia. The transaction would have a value of between 1.2 and 1.5 billion euros. Lufthansa would act as an industrial partner.

Maersk has announced plans to launch an offshore vessel-charging company to support the maritime industry’s decarbonisation efforts by eliminating idle emissions. A project for decarbonised shipping is gearing up to introduce the world’s first ammonia-powered ship.

Lastly, if you are reading this before taking an afternoon nap, have a coffee first.

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CNN asks whether governments should fix prices to control food inflation – a policy last used in the 1970s – but concludes that it will only result in shortages.

The New York Post writes that citrus greening disease has decimated Florida’s orange crop, resulting in the lowest production in 75 years. Orange juice prices are up 50 per cent on the 10-year lows seen in February 2020.

Palm oil prices have hit a record high on concerns over supplies. Malaysian producers face an acute labour shortage, while Indonesia may impose limits on palm oil exports to encourage producers to prioritise the domestic market. Indian consumers are likely to switch to cheaper soy and sunflower oils.

After the Canadian and US governments introduced vaccination requirements for truckers crossing their borders, Canadians are paying more for their fruit and vegetable. The cost of transporting fruit from California and Arizona to Canada climbed 25 per cent last week. Only 50 to 60 per cent of US truckers are vaccinated. The US restrictions also apply to border traffic with Mexico.

The new rules are also negatively impacting the cross-border shipments of Canadian pigs to US abattoirs. Exporters have cancelled truck shipments of US soybean meal to Manitoba when producers are relying on the imports to feed their animals after drought hit domestic production.  Capacity constraints make it challenging to transfer to rail shipments, and some Canadian feedlot operators expect to run out of animal feed “within days.

Bloomberg writes that the $150 billion that the shipping industry made last year from higher freight rates contributed to food inflation.

It is not just the shipping companies seeing higher profits after years of depressed markets. Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, whose holding company, Akira BV, is the main shareholder in Louis Dreyfus Company, received $457 million in dividends in 2021, increasing her net worth to $3.3 billion.

China imported 28.35 million tonnes of corn in 2021, up 152 per cent from the previous annual record of 11.3 million in 2020. Chinese wheat imports also hit a record at 9.77 million tonnes, up 16.6 per cent from 2020. Wheat imports have mainly increased for animal feed, but the country’s growing demand for bread may continue the upward trend.

California Air Resources Board (CARB) has found that recent truck engines emit more NOx when running on renewable diesel than conventional diesel. Earlier studies on older engines had found that renewable diesel reduced NOx emissions by 10 per cent. The new research could affect how regulators revise the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which has spurred recent investment in renewable diesel.

Due to policy and feedstock constraints, the US will likely produce less than half the renewable diesel production projected by the US government for 2025. The EIA estimates US renewable diesel production capacity could increase to more than 5 billion gallons per year, but a new study estimates production will reach approximately 2 billion gallons.

There were various anti-meat stories this week. Euronews featured a Bafta-winning short film about a UK farmer who donated his beef cattle herd to an animal sanctuary. Bloomberg Green has a long read on how cattle farming destroys the Amazon rainforest.

The Guardian writes about the US’s manure problem and worries that the growing use of anaerobic digesters to produce biomethane will encourage farmers to increase herds. And in a separate article, the newspaper writes about the European culture wars over meat-eating. The EU expects per capita meat consumption to drop only slightly, from 69.8 kg in 2018 to 67 kg by 2031, too little to impact global warming.

Wired magazine questions whether there is such a thing as ‘low carbon beef’. Under a USDA scheme, producers who can prove they raise their cattle in a way that emits 10 per cent fewer greenhouse gases than an industry baseline can qualify for the certification.

The food technology start-up, Mosa Meat, has developed a way to grow meat in a laboratory without using fetal bovine serum (FBS, blood taken from foetuses in pregnant cows during the slaughter process. Musa believes that it can reduce production costs by 80 per cent and has published details in Nature.

For a second straight year, the French government has ordered poultry farmers in the country’s Southwest to cull their birds in the face of bird flu. A severe outbreak between autumn 2020 and spring 2021 claimed about 3.5 million poultry, mainly ducks.

The EU is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of its Common Agricultural Policy. You will find its history and associated articles here.

NASA is offering $1 million in prize money for innovations around sustainable food production. NASA wants to develop food systems that can feed a team of four astronauts on a long-haul space mission of up to three years. They also hope it will result in food innovation to help feed more people on earth.

And talking of feeding the planet, the plant enset, an Ethiopian staple, could be a new superfood and a lifesaver in the face of climate change. The banana-like crop could feed more than 100 million people in a warming world.

The fourfold increase in fertiliser prices over the past year will hit European farmers badly. For example, fertiliser use in Hungary could drop 30-40 per cent this season, making crops more susceptible to drought. The world’s biggest vertical farm, under construction in Pennsylvania, hopes to get around high fertiliser prices by using fish poop.

Looking forward, the world’s farmers will have to switch to ‘green’ fertilisers produced from renewable fuel if they want to decarbonise food production. It will be challenging, but this article is optimistic that it will happen.

The UK government has allowed the country’s sugar beet farmers to use the chemical pesticide thiamethoxam to deal with yellow virus disease. The EU and UK banned its use in 2018 because of the damage the chemical could cause to bees. meanwhile, New Atlas looks at the remarkable properties of sugar-based plastics.

Italy has applied for UNESCO world heritage status for espresso coffee, claiming it is “much more than a simple drink”. Finally, to let your mind wander to sunny climes, the BBC has a lovely piece on Trieste, the coffee capital of Italy.

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Revenues at Goldman Sachs’ commodity unit have exceeded $2.2 billion in the final months of 2021, exceeding those for 2020, after the team placed big bets on rising prices. The bank remains hugely bullish on energy prices, betting that we are in a commodity super-cycle that could last a decade.

With world food prices back to where they were in 2011, Bloomberg worries that some countries may see food riots and social unrest. However, after nearly doubling in 2021, fertilizer prices are beginning to fall, raising hopes that food inflation might also ease.

Soy farmers in South Brazil are battling a severe drought that could wipe out their harvest in some areas. Good rains in the top-producing state of Mato Grosso could partially offset losses in the south. Still, some forecasters have cut their estimates for Brazil’s total soy output this year by some 10 to 11 million tonnes to about 133-134 million tonnes.

A USDA report on drought preparedness finds that approximately 80 per cent of US irrigation organizations don’t have a formal plan for responding to future water scarcity. As recently as November, 28 per cent of the US was affected by severe to extreme drought. The drought is mainly located west of the Mississippi River, with arid conditions in far Western states. By contrast, Maine has produced a record potato crop.

Ships looking to avoid delays at China’s Ningbo port are heading to Shanghai, causing growing congestion. Ships are also re-routing to Xiamen in the south.

Maersk has upgraded its full-year guidance and expects to report up to $1.8 billion in Q4 earnings for a revised full-year EBIT of $19.8 billion. It comes on the back of an 80 per cent hike in its average freight rate, compared with Q4 2020, and despite a 4 per cent decline in liftings. Maersk’s 2021 earnings will easily exceed the previous five years combined.

In the last quarter, operating margins for container shipping companies ranged from 67 per cent for Evergreen to 52.7 per cent for Costco and 40.8 per cent for Maersk. The industry will report about $190 billion of combined operating profit for 2021, more than the operating earnings at Apple and Microsoft Corp. combined.

Maersk has exercised options for four additional new build containerships powered by carbon-neutral methanol. Maersk placed its original order for eight 16,000 TEU methanol-fuelled ships in August 2021, with delivery planned in the first quarter of 2024. They will have a dual fuel engine setup to enable green methanol or conventional low sulphur fuel operation.

Maersk has meanwhile announced that it is bringing forward the date by which it hopes to be carbon-neutral from 2050 to 2040.

The NGO Global Canopy reports that a third of the 350 companies most exposed to commodities such as palm oil, beef and timber has no policies to ensure their products are not fuelling deforestation. The UK has already made it a legal responsibility for companies to ensure no illegal deforestation in their supply chains, and the EU and US are looking at similar legislation.

The Guardian writes that a Brazilian farm that has in the past sold corn and soy to Cargill will be blacklisted this year under the Soy Moratorium, a voluntary industry agreement that bars the trade in soya beans on Amazon land deforested after 2008.

Brazil will stop monitoring deforestation in the Cerrado due to budget cuts. Deforestation in the Cerrado rose 8 per cent to 8,531 square kilometres for the 12-months through July.

The USDA aims to double the US’s cover crop plantings to 30 million acres by 2030, spending $38 million to help farmers in 11 states plant cover crops to bolster soil health, limit soil erosion and capture and store carbon.

Bloomberg writes of the future of lab-grown meat and asks when FDA approval will be forthcoming. The sector is optimistic about its prospects, particularly after the USDA awarded a $10 million grant to Tuft’s University over five years to establish the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture.

A UK government-commissioned survey found that 42 per cent of respondents said that nothing could persuade them to try lab-grown meat, but 27 per cent might try it if they knew it was safe to eat and 23 per cent if they could trust that it was properly regulated. The majority (67 per cent) reported that nothing could make them try edible insects, although 13 per cent could if they knew they were safe to eat and 11 per cent if they looked appetizing.

After meat and coffee, researchers are turning their attention to lab-produced palm oil. Bill Gates’ investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, has invested $20 million in C16 Biosciences to develop a microbial palm oil alternative. As with all lab-based options, the problem is to scale production economically.

Scale might not be a problem securing protein for animal feed from Scotland’s gorse and broom bushes, invasive species that landowners clear each year. Gorse contains 17 per cent protein, and broom has 21 per cent protein.

Environmental groups are against the US administration’s proposed Build Back Better Bill that encourages livestock and dairy farmers to trap methane gas and sell it for electricity or vehicle fuel. They say that if capturing and selling methane from cows becomes profitable, it could incentivize large farms to grow, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. One policy analyst said, “If you start making money off of pollution, you’re not going to stop polluting.”

A new study published in Nature argues that the world’s more than $200 billion of agricultural subsidies are neither healthy nor sustainable. It finds that about two-thirds of all subsidies are non-specific, allowing farmers to use them as they wish. The report argues that the support should be redirected in ways that are good for the environment and consumer health, specifically away from meat and dairy.

The US administration is considering reducing the 2022 ethanol blending mandate below the proposed 15 billion gallons. Last December, the US EPA proposed reducing ethanol requirements for 2020 and 2021 but restoring them to 15 billion gallons for 2022.

The US Supreme Court has refused a bid to revive a 2019 EPA waiver that allowed year-round sales of E15, effectively lifting summertime restrictions. The Supreme Court agreed with an earlier lower court ruling that the agency had exceeded its authority in granting the waiver.

ExxonMobil has bought a 49.9 per cent stake in Biojet. This Norwegian biofuel company plans to convert forestry and wood-based construction waste into biofuels and biofuel components that meet the requirements for advanced fuels under Norwegian, EU and UK regulations. Biojet intends to begin commercial production in 2025.

ADM has signed a letter of intent with Wolf Carbon Solutions to build a 350-mile steel pipeline to capture and transport carbon dioxide produced at ADM’s ethanol facilities at Clinton and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to a sequestration site in Decatur, Illinois.

In trade news, India has agreed to allow US pork and pork imports, removing a longstanding trade barrier. However, China will maintain tariffs on US distillers grains (DDGS) imports but will conduct a review that may see the tariffs lifted in January 2023.

Finally, Sprudge agrees with the New York Times that robusta will take market share from arabica as climate change makes the latter harder to grow.

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The FAO’s food price index declined 0.9 per cent in December but increased 28 per cent in 2021, averaging 125.7 points, its highest level since 2011.

Bloomberg argues that Chinese food stockpiles are contributing to rising world food prices and questions why less than 20 per cent of the world’s population holds 69 per cent of the world’s corn reserves, 60 per cent of its rice reserves and 51 per cent of its wheat reserves.

Low food prices may be bad for consumers, but they are good for farmers. Indeed, Germany’s Agriculture Minister argues that food prices should rise further, arguing that “junk prices” drive “farms into ruin, prevent more animal welfare, promote the extinction of species and pollute the climate.”

Covid continues to disrupt supply chains, with supermarkets in the US and Australia running short of groceries. The FT asks (in a long read) if there is an end in sight to these supply chain disruptions. The newspaper concludes that there probably isn’t and that it might be time to start moving production closer to consumption.

Bloomberg argues that freak weather and climate change will continue to disrupt our food supply long after Covid’s effects wear off. Unfortunately, the FT agrees. For example, unseasonably low rainfall across southern Africa threatens harvests and could lead to higher regional food prices later in the year.

Even food-producing countries are not immune. After palm oil surged to a record in October 2021 and posted a third straight year of gains, Indonesia’s government has said it will spend 3.6 trillion rupiahs ($250 million) to subsidise domestic cooking oil prices.

California’s Port of Oakland has said it will open a new container yard for agricultural exporters struggling with capacity shortages and high freight costs. Following delays due to flooding in Vancouver Port, farmers are resorting to desperate measures to export their produce, chartering three 747 aeroplanes to fly potatoes to Japan.

In environmental news, deforestation and other clearances of native vegetation in Brazil’s Cerrado rose 8 per cent to 8,531 sq km in the 12 months through July, the highest level since 2015. And in India, the BBC traces Delhi’s smog back to farmers’ poor water management.

A switch from arabica to robusta coffee could be one of the top consumer trends for the next few years as climate change makes arabica more challenging to grow. Changes in the way farmers grow, and process robusta could make it more palatable. Some predict that world robusta production could soon exceed that of arabica. (Meanwhile, for you coffee lovers out there, Seeking Alpha has an interesting piece on the speciality coffee sector and how the major brands are profiting from rising demand in Asia. )

On the good news front, scientists are genetically engineering soil microbes to reduce methane emissions from rice paddy fields.

Indonesia’s President has revoked more than 2,000 mining, plantation and forest-use permits due to non-compliance or because they had been unused. He said he was acting to improve governance and transparency in the natural resources sector.

The UK government will pay farmers in England to rewild their lands and has invited bids for 10-15 pilot projects, each covering at least 500 hectares and up to 5,000 hectares, to a total of approximately 10,000 hectares in the first two-year phase. Funding for the project could reach £700 – £800 million a year by 2028.

The Guardian is worried that these measures, plus others, will lead to a decline in UK farm production and increased food imports. A UK Parliamentary Committee has come to the same conclusion, arguing that the UK government has not established any way to measure whether £2.4 billion of annual post-Brexit farm payments will provide value for money.

Across the pond, the USDA will provide $1 billion in funding this year to support independent meat processors and ranchers as part of a plan to address a lack of “meaningful competition” in the meat sector.

In company news, Cargill has paid €915 million to acquire the majority of Croda’s industrial chemicals business. The acquired business sells nature-derived alternatives to chemicals now commonly made with petroleum used in products ranging from plastic mouldings for cars to food and beverage packaging.

The container shipping giant Maersk has acquired Hong Kong-based LF Logistics for $3.6 billion. The acquisition will add 223 warehouses to Maersk’s existing portfolio, bringing their total facilities to 549 globally. However, Maersk’s stated intention to transform itself into a logistics provider is causing conflict within the company.

The Chicago Board of Trade has sold what was formerly its largest trading floor at 333 S. La Salle St. to an electricity company that will transform it into a sub-station. CME closed most of its trading floors in 2015.

Finally, here is some new research on the top US states in renewable energy production.

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The price for shipping a 40-foot container to the US West Coast from China has moved higher in the past two weeks to $14,825. While that’s down 28 per cent from a record of $20,586 reached in September, it’s still more than ten times higher than in December 2019. Analysts worry supply chain disruptions will continue well into next year.

The US House of Representatives has passed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021, aimed at curbing the shipping container crisis by giving the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) more power to penalise ocean carriers and require more public disclosure. The World Shipping Council said that the bill was a political expression of frustration and not designed to fix supply chain problems. The legislation now moves to the Senate.

US farmers have asked the US Department of Justice to investigate whether fertiliser companies are manipulating prices. Since the 1980s, the US fertiliser industry has shrunk from 46 to 13 firms, with two companies, Nutrien and Mosaic, controlling 93 per cent of the North American potash market

The market for manure has heated up as farmers hunt for alternatives to phosphate- and nitrogen-based fertilisers. Manure is primarily a local market, and truckloads don’t travel further than 80 kilometres. When fertiliser prices soared about a decade ago, farmers reintroduced hogs and cattle onto their land, in part for their manure. They may do it again.

Fortune Magazine has a piece on the feed-additive industry and its role in reducing methane emissions from cattle.

Following California’s record-breaking drought and heat this year, the state has said that it won’t give any water from the State Water Project to farmers next year unless conditions improve. An official from the California Farm Water Coalition said, “Farmers will either have to pump groundwater, if they can, or they’re going to be fallowing a lot of farmland.”

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARE) has forecast that Australia is heading to record gross agricultural production of $78 billion this year despite flood and rain damage in the eastern states. ABARE forecasts export value at an all-time high of $61 billion.

The FT writes that Silicon Valley continues in its efforts to ‘solve’ dinner. The NY Times argues that Sri Lanka’s countrywide move into organic farming has led to disastrous food shortages and higher prices.

The UN’s FAO has published a report criticising the ‘disastrous’ way farmers use plastic. The FAO recognises the benefits of plastic in producing and protecting food but said the use of plastics had become pervasive and that most were single-use and were buried, burned or lost after use.

The UK government may authorise the neonicotinoid Cruiser SB for sugar beet. The sector says it needs the pesticide to protect seeds from a disease called virus yellows.

Nature has published a report on research into sustainable rice production. The authors argue that global rice production could increase by 32 per cent, and excess nitrogen almost eliminated by focusing on a relatively small number of cropping systems.

Coffee leaf rust disease in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua is pushing coffee farmers to abandon their trees and migrate to the US. The fungal pathogen has been revived by the humidity from the hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit Central America in late 2020.

The US EPA has retroactively reduced the 2020 biofuel blending obligation for refineries by nearly 15 per cent from 20.09 to 17.13 billion gallons. For 2021, it has reduced the obligation from 20.1 to 18.5 billion gallons, but for 2022, it has increased it to 20.77 billion gallons. The EPA has also proposed rejecting the 65 pending applications for small refinery exemptions – waivers requested by fuel producers.

Bayer has joined Amazon and Bushel to help ethanol producers track carbon emissions across their supply chains. Project Carbonview will enrol eligible farmers within 50 to 100 miles of selected ethanol plants in the Upper Midwest.

Bloomberg has a short video on the effect that renewable diesel will have on soybean demand and the interplay between the energy and agricultural markets.

The BBC writes about the environmental impacts of Indonesia’s biofuels policy. All diesel fuel in the country now contains at least 30 per cent biodiesel, which will rise to 50 per cent by 2025. It would require an increase in the palm area of 1.2 million hectares – to about a quarter of all palm oil cultivated in the country.  An Indonesian court has rejected a bid by two companies to reinstate permits for palm oil plantations in its easternmost region of Papua, which was seen as a test of the government’s pledge to contain deforestation.

Mounting employment costs and worker shortages in Malaysia’s palm oil sector could mean the country losing its edge and ceding market share to Indonesia. An analyst with LMC said that workers now have more options for urban employment and are less willing to do manual labour. “Soon, there will be no ‘cheap’ labour,” he added.

In company news, Nestlé is cutting its stake in the French cosmetics brand L’Oreal to about 20 per cent, selling shares worth 8.9 billion euros.

Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the majority shareholder in Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), has said that the company might not remain in family hands forever. She added that she does not rule out a company listing.

Cargill plans to eliminate trans fats from its edible oils over the next two years, in line with a WHO goal of phasing it out of global diets by the end of 2023. Cargill is among the top three edible oil producers worldwide and is the first to announce plans to comply with the WHO’s goal.

A cyberattack on the largest US cheese manufacturer has led to a shortage of cream cheese, wreaking havoc on the country’s bagel shops and bakeries. The attack occurred at the height of annual cream cheese demand. Perhaps worse, Australians may run out of beer this Christmas. A shortage of wooden pallets is disrupting factory shipments.

Finally, my latest book, Commodity Crops & The Merchants Who Trade Them is now available on Amazon in paperback and ebook. A hardback version will be available shortly.

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The FAO Index of world food prices rose 1.2 per cent in November and is close to the record highs seen in 2011. Grains and dairy prices led the rally, while vegetable oils and meat prices declined. Rabobank warns that food prices are likely to stay near record highs next year due to consumers stocking up, high energy and shipping prices, adverse weather, and a strong dollar.

India will pay record fertiliser subsidies of more than $20.64 billion in the 2021/22 fiscal year, almost double the amount budgeted. India caps the price of urea at 5360 rupees ($71.36) per tonne, while world prices have surged to around $990/tonne.

Reuters writes that the Indian government’s recent decision to abandon farm reform will mean that no political party will attempt similar reforms for at least a quarter-century. An economist warns that “inefficiencies in the system will continue to deliver wastage, and food will continue to rot.”

The UK government has published its Sustainable Farming Initiative to replace EU farm subsidies. Environmental campaigners say the plans display a ‘shocking lack of ambition’.

Farmers in eastern Australia are bracing themselves for further downpours after the country’s wettest November in 122 years. It is too early to evaluate the extent of crop losses or the quality of wheat that farmers will succeed in harvesting. On the other side of the Pacific, Californian farmers are concerned that drought could be a recurring problem and may lead them to rethink which crops they can grow.

The queue of container ships waiting to unload at the adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, has risen to 96, a new record. The average wait for ships to unload is 20.8 days, almost a week longer than a month ago. Cargo ships are bypassing the Port of Oakland, the third busiest in California, and heading directly back to Asia. The port’s volume declined by 20 per cent in October compared to last year, while the number of vessels visiting the port fell 43 per cent.

Pre-tax profits for the container shipping industry could be more than $300 billion for the two years 2021 and 2022. The sector is forecast to make $150 billion in 2021, up from $25.4 billion in 2020, and could make even more in 2022.

Maersk will give its roughly 80,000 employees a $1,000 end-of-year bonus out of an expected 2021 income of more than $17 billion. The company awarded its workers a similar bonus in 2020 when it made $2.9 billion.

MSC’s recent buying and building spree mean it has overtaken Maersk as the world’s largest container-shipping company.  MSC has a net tonnage of approximately 4,239,668 TEU, 5,366 TEU more than Maersk’s 4,234,302 TEU.

Meanwhile, A.P. Moller Holding, the owner of Maersk, is diversifying outside the sector. It has bought Unilabs, a provider of medical diagnostic services, including COVID-19 tests.

Biofuel producers in the US are waiting for the administration to announce the quantity of biofuels refiners must blend into their fuel mix this year and next. The US administration is also expected to propose expanding the kinds of renewable fuel eligible for credits under the US Renewable Fuel Standard programme.

The business journal Barrons is bullish on biofuels, particularly renewable diesel, and recommends three stocks that could profit from the anticipated boom.

BASF will launch its Global Carbon Farming Program next year to help farmers reduce their CO2 emissions. BASF has committed to reducing CO2 crop emissions by 30 per cent per tonne by 2030. And if you have been wondering what people mean by regenerative agriculture, this article looks at four different ways of approaching it.

The anti-meat media campaign continues with Time Magazine declaring that Cows Are the New Coal. The magazine argues that “if the global livestock industry were its own country, it would be the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter, falling between US and India when it comes to total greenhouse gas emissions.”

The New Statesman says that ‘we are committing ecocide on a biblical scale’ due to deforestation for cattle and soy in the Amazon. In a separate article, the magazine writes that methane is much worse than CO2 for the planet – but comes up with suggestions for what we should do about it.

A Norwegian technology company thinks it has already found a solution to stop slurry (the fertilising mixture of manure, hay and water) from emitting so much methane. The new technology uses a plasma torch to add nitrogen from air to the slurry to stop methanogenesis – the breakdown of methane microbes that release the gas. The company says their technology reduces methane emissions from slurry by 99 per cent and cuts ammonia emissions by 95 per cent.

Impact NRS, an American Israeli innovation company, has established a joint venture with Ben-Gurion University and the Volcani Center to develop cattle feed that reduces methane emissions from cows.

Another Israeli company, Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL), has opened an $18 million production facility in St Louis to produce plant-based alt-meat. The plant can make more than 15 million pounds of alt-meat each year. Meanwhile, the alt-meat company Impossible Foods want to persuade UK farmers to give up cattle farming and plant trees instead.

Workers have accepted a new labour contract at Cargill’s Canadian beef processing plant in Alberta, averting a strike. The plant accounts for about 40 per cent of Canada’s beef supply.

Lastly, palm oil producers in Malaysia are worried that the omicron outbreak could lead countries such as Bangladesh and India to close their borders, exacerbating the acute labour shortages in the palm sector. Malaysian-listed FGV Holdings told Bloomberg that it currently has only 70 per cent of its required labour and hopes that 7,000 foreign workers will arrive by the end of the first quarter.

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