Topic: Firm US corn prices following global demand recovery
After undergoing a volatile 2020, the US corn balance sheet ended the year at an over six-year high, with the most active March futures contract of corn on the Chicago Board of Trade reaching $4.80 per bushel on 31 December—increasing more than 40 percent since August. Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture’s season average farm price for US reached $4 per bushel, rising 30 percent since August. The primary contributing factor to these high prices was unexpectedly high demand from China, with export sales for US corn in 2020-2021 up by 162 percent year-on-year from 2019. The USDA anticipates that China is likely to import 16.5 million megatonnes of corn in 2020-2021, a steep increase compared to the estimated 7.6 million megatonnes in 2019-2020. Sustained strong demand of US corn from China could resume in 2021, as China has already committed to 11.6 million megatonnes of US corn for delivery in 2020-2021 as of 16 December, while the recovery in China’s hog herd—previously hit by Asian Swine Fever—and speculation around “tight inventories” could also be contributing factors to this sustained demand. Other factors contributing to firm corn prices include substantial cuts to production estimates (global corn production estimates for 2020-2021 have dropped by 3.5 percent since May to 1.143 billion megatonnes in December), dwindling supplies of corn from major producers (the US, the EU, and Ukraine) due to dry conditions, suspension of corn exports in Argentina until March 2021, potential competition with a strong soybean market (which saw a price recovery in 2020), and potential increased demand for corn ethanol (dependent on successful COVID-19 vaccines encouraging a global economic recovery). Additionally, the demand outlook for US Dried Distillers Grain with Solubles (DDGS) is likely to be supported into 2021 on continued buying.
Topic: Soybean crush outlook diverges on recovery in Brazil, recession in Argentina
Brazil’s soybean crush volumes are expected to remain elevated in 2021 on high demand, whereas the outlook for Argentina’s crushing industry is uncertain while Buenos Aires navigates with recession and more than $323 billion of debt. High domestic and export demand meant that Brazilian crushers’ sales rapidly increased for most of 2020, Argentina’s crushers dealt with labour strikes, tight raw beans supply, logistical bottlenecks, high taxes, and negative margins, with analysts predicting similar trends for Brazil and Argentina in 2021. A Rosario-based economist anticipated that “the key challenge for the Argentinian processors in 2021 is likely to be a low or even negative crush margin due to soaring input and logistical costs . . . Argentinian soybean prices, which rose almost 88% year on year to $341 megatonnes in December 2020, are expected to continue surging in 2021.” In Argentina, high export taxes (at 31 percent) are likely to bring down the normally over-90 percent export rate of its soy products, while tight supply concerns due to dry weather and currency control measures have already begun to impact prices. Meanwhile in Brazil, analysts anticipate sustained momentum for a high crush output in 2021 despite the rising input cost of raw beans. A Goiania-based consultant noted that although the average price for Brazilian beans is expected to rise over 20 percent year-on-year in 2021 due to tight supply, the crush volume is still likely to remain elevated on high prices and strong demand momentum (the 2020-2021 domestic crush demand is projected to remain high at 49 million megatonnes) as the global economy gradually recovers from the pandemic. According to the USDA’s December report, Brazil is expected to export 16.8 million megatonnes of soybean meal and 1.15 million megatonnes of soy oil in 2020-2021, down 7 percent and 9 percent on-year.
Topic: Bison set up for future growth under new ownership
Manitoba-based conglomerate James Richardson & Sons (JRSL) reached a deal to take over Bison Transport from the Jessiman family on 1 January. Bison, one of Canada’s most prominent trucking companies, has an “aggressive five-year growth plan and needed deeper pockets to execute it” according to Rob Penner, president and CEO of Bison Transport. The plan intends to reach $1.5 billion in sales. Penner emphasises that the new ownership is “a change in shareholder, not a change in operating philosophy.”
Topic: Word food prices rise for seventh month in a row in December
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that world food prices rose for the seventh consecutive month in December 2020, largely led by dairy products and vegetable oils. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 107.5 points in December, 2.2 percent higher than in November. During 2020, the benchmark index averaged 97.9 points, a three-year high and 3.1 percent increase from 2019. The FAO Cereal Price Index, which rose 1.1 percent from November, averaged 6.6 percent above the level of 2019 in 2020, where export prices for wheat, maize, sorghum, and rice increased in December in response to concerns over growing conditions and crop prospects in North and South America and in Russia. The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index reached its highest level since September 2012 at 4.7 percent in December due to ongoing supply tightness in major palm oil producing countries and international prices for soy oil rising due to strikes in Argentina. The FAO Dairy Price Index hit its seventh consecutive monthly rise in December by increasing 3.2 percent, with all categories higher as a result of strong global import demand in response to drier and warmer conditions in Oceania and high internal demand in Western Europe. The FAO Meat Price Index increased 1.7 percent in December, while its full-year average was 4.5 percent below that of 2019 due to fluctuations in poultry meat quotations and pork prices. The FAO Sugar Price Index declined by 0.6 percent in December after a notable increase during November, with the sub-index for 2020 as a whole at 1.1 percent higher than 2019 in response to increased imports by China and increased demand for refined sugar from Indonesia despite upward pressure being curbed by improved production prospects in Brazil and India.
Topic: England to discuss enabling gene-edited foods in post-Brexit departure from EU policy
The British government will begin consultations on enabling gene-edited crops and livestock in England post-Brexit, a significant departure from the EU policy on agricultural technology. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs noted that “gene editing held potential major benefits such as reducing dependence on pesticides, and argued the process was distinct from highly contentious genetic modification.” George Eustice, Environment secretary, revealed a ten-week consultation into regulating gene editing differently from GM, a policy that would reverse the European Court of Justice’s 2018 ruling that gene editing should be subject to the same tight regulations. Though EU rules do not ban the use of GM and gene-edited foods, the approval process is stringent. Farming groups like the National Farmers’ Union are lobbying for “a more liberal approach” in the UK post-Brexit (and which is seen in Japan and Argentina, two countries that apply more liberal regulatory regimes to gene-edited products than to other genetically modified organisms). This move towards enabling gene editing in England could invoke the anger of environmental groups, which have, in the past, rejected distinctions between GM and gene-edited organisms and campaigned against both.
Topic: CBC investigation of American businessman behind the failed purchase of Input Capital
The publicly traded company based in Regina that lends money to farmers in exchange for some of their future canola crop, Input Capital, is investigating the collapse of its $97.5 million proposed sale to American businessman Eric Blue. Input first announced that Washington, DC-based firm Bridgeway National Corporation (owned by Blue) was to make a cash purchase of all Input shares on 12 August, 2020, only for the deal to collapse on 29 October with little explanation. A CBC News Investigation notes that “there were plenty of warning signs that experts say should have caught Input’s attention,” such as Blue’s involvement in multi-million dollar disputes from multiple failed deals with entities like Joy detergent brand and the Tom and Gayle Benson Foundation. Plaintiffs in court have alleged that Blue made “fraudulent commitments and supported them with forged documents,” while court documents also demonstrate that Blue is facing bankruptcy.
Topic: Saskatchewan farmers concerned about federal carbon tax system
The federal government’s plan to gradually increase its carbon pricing system has many Saskatchewan farmers concerned, with APAS reporting that the tax “has the potential to put some farmers out of business.” In December 2020, the federal government announced the carbon levee per tonne would gradually move to $170 per tonne by 2030 and that while farmers get some exemptions, many of their costs are not exempt. The federal government emphasises that the tax is revenue-neutral and that the majority of consumers will get back as much or more than they pay out. APAS will continue to lobby the federal government.
Topic: Chicago Board of Trade agricultural futures show promising prospects
In early January 2021, Chicago Board of Trade agricultural futures reached seven-year highs while wheat stayed steady to slightly weaker. AgResource, a Chicago-based research company, maintains growing confidence in an expanding economic recovery and greater demand for raw materials as a result of the US Democrats’ new stimulus package and pandemic vaccinations. Spot CBOT corn in particular gained a seven-year high at the start of 2021, with the marketing having been forced to rally following non-US cash feedgrain markets continuing to advance. Meanwhile US wheat at the start of 2021 remained steady to weaker due to a lack of market-specific news and seasonally slow export sales, which allowed for modest profit taking. AgResource reports that the longer-term issue for wheat “is the need for above-trend Northern Hemisphere yields this year,” with sub-trend yields tightening the exporter balance sheets further.
Topic: Ample grain inventory in China means sufficient stocks to meet domestic demands
China’s National Food and Strategic Reserves Administration (NFSRA) announced in January that grain inventories in China achieved a nearly fifteen-year high, while corn stocks in Northeast China tripled compared to the same period in 2020. The high levels at China’s grain inventories means that there are sufficient wheat and rice stocks to meet domestic demand for twelve months, while inventories of refined grains and oils will be sufficient to meet over twenty days of local demand. In the first eleven months of 2020, China’s cumulative imports of wheat totaled 7.49 million tonnes, rice imports at 2.23 million tonnes, and imports of other alternatives (including barley, corn, and sorghum) at 20.41 million tonnes.
Topic: France rejects Couche-Tard’s Carrefour takeover bid
France emphasised its opposition to the €16.2 billion takeover of supermarket group Carrefour by Canadian convenience store group Couche-Tard, citing concerns over food security. The offer “aimed at combining two companies with very different formats and geographical footprints into a retailing giant worth more than $50bn and the third-largest grocer globally behind Walmart and Schwartz Group.”
Topic: Rising coronavirus cases and supply fears prompt China wheat auction to soar
In the wake of rising coronavirus cases prompting supply fears and in response to feedmakers seeking alternatives to corn, China sold 99.74 percent (approximately 3,939,732 tonnes) of the total wheat offered at its auction of state reserves in the second week of January. Increasing coronavirus outbreaks and lockdowns in major grain-producing provinces Hebei and Heilongjiang have disrupted logistics and industrial activity, prompting many to panic-buy supplies.
Topic: Three ETFs to jump on commodity bandwagon
Following Bloomberg reporting a boom in the commodities market, where investors are moving from the bull market in stocks to “areas further afield in search of returns in a very-low interest rate environment,” Hellenic Shipping News offers three ETFs to look into to jump on the commodity bandwagon. These include the Invesco DB Agriculture Fund ETF (one of the largest ETFs holding agricultural commodities), the VanEck Vectors Agribusiness ETF (an ETF that holds agricultural stocks), and the VanEck Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (an ETF that holds stocks of companies that produce rare earth metals). Hellenic Shipping News also recommends Barclays iPath Bloomberg Copper Subindex for pure copper plays.
Topic: Palm prices likely to hit nine-year high in 2021
A Reuters poll showed that palm oil production in Malaysia and Indonesia is expected to recover and drive unpredictable prices in 2021, the latter being expected to rise to nine-year highs. At the start of the year, Malaysia’s benchmark palm oil contract began at near decade-high levels of $940.13 as a result of a supply crunch in global edible oils. However, prices are expected to average at $694.96 per tonne in 2021. Christopher CHai, general manager with Kwantas Corp, expects a turbulent 2021, stating that “the market is expected to face more volatility because crude palm oil price has gone way beyond expectations.” Global palm oil production is expected to recover in the second half of this year after last year’s heavy rains and labour shortages worsened by the pandemic impacted supply in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia’s production is rising 1.8 percent from 2020 to 48.3 million tonnes, while Malaysia’s production anticipates a rebound by 2.4 percent to 19.6 million tonnes.
Topic: Shipping carriers reject US agriculture exports and opt for Chinese exports
During November and October 2020, shipping carriers rejected an estimated 117,938 US agricultural export containers (TEUs) worth millions of dollars and instead sent empty containers to China to be filled by more profitable Chinese exports. US agricultural exporters pushed petitions to the Federal Maritime Commission, warning that “the delays in trade not only threaten profits but the reputation of the industry.” The refusals came during peak season for US agriculture exporters. During their reviews of the import and export data from January 2020 to November, CNBC found “the pattern of this growing US export container deficit started as early as June for Los Angeles, July for Long Beach, and August for New York and New Jersey,” where from July through November, a total of 297,997 TEUs were denied—a container deficit value of $1.1 billion.
Topic: Well-known Chinese tech entrepreneur missing after criticizing CCP
The well-known Chinese tech entrepreneur and billionaire Jack Ma has not been seen in public after angering the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a speech he gave at the Bund Summit in Shanghai in October, where he criticized China’s financial system and its regulators.
Topic: Minister Ng announces launch of Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program
On 26 January, 2021, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, the Honourable Mary Ng, announced the launch of the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP). HASCAP intends to “provide financial support to businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” being available to businesses in all sectors across the country. Through HASCAP, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) “will work with participating Canadian financial institutions to offer government-guaranteed, low-interest loans of up to $1 million.” Eligibility for HASCAP depends on showing a year-over-year revenue decline of at least 50 percent in three month, within the eight months prior to application. Businesses must also be able to demonstrate to their financial institutions that they have previously applied for either the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy or the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy. Applications opened in February.
Topic: Global grain supply-demand mismatch expected to continue for next two years
On the back of strong demand and tight balance sheets, the global grain and oilseed supply-demand mismatch is expected to continue for at least the next eighteen to twenty-four months according to Archer-Daniels-Midland CEO Juan Luciana. However, ADM’s CFO Ray Young noted that “green shoots of recovery in 2021” are expected for the US ethanol industry, which had previously suffered a major setback in early 2020 due to stay-at-home orders and declining gasoline prices and which is expected to be supported by the reconfiguration of ethanol capacity by various competitors and how small refinery exemptions will play out in the coming months. While ADM’s ethanol business performance in the first quarter of 2021 is expected to be much higher than the first quarter of 2020, it is expected to be lower than the fourth quarter of 2020 due to industry challenges remaining around ethanol margins. Additionally, ADM’s grain and oilseed business in the first quarter of 2021 is expected to be higher than the first quarter of 2020, largely as a result of strong North American export demand and continued healthy crush margins.
Topic: Conrad Black opinion piece on Julie Payette’s departure
In his opinion piece, Conrad Black discusses “the fiasco of departed Governor General Julie Payette” and how it “highlights what has gradually become the terminal absurdity of that office.” Black argues that for the Governor General to be ousted from office “because of anonymous complaints against rude and authoritarian management,” it is “an abysmal farce and it makes a mockery of the constitutional confusion and obsolescence that afflicts the Canadian state.”
Topic: Non-energy commodity prices see fastest rising rate since 2011
As the manufacturing side of the global economy bounces back after the pandemic troubles of 2020, commodity prices are rapidly rising. By November 2020, “global manufacturing activity had recovered all of its pandemic-related losses and merchandise volumes were more than one percent higher than prior-year levels.” Following this, a surge in commodity consumption has lifted the prices for almost all commodities above last year’s levels, boosting producers’ income at the expense of consumers. Non-energy commodity prices in particular were up by a weighted average of more than 16 percent in December compared to the same month in 2019, with non-energy prices at the highest average level since mid-2014 and rising at the fastest rate since mid-2011. The biggest driving force behind this rapid rise is the resurgence of global manufacturing and merchandise consumption despite ongoing restraints due to the pandemic. This resurgence is boosting demand for raw materials and intermediate items like semiconductors, as well as stretching the ability of freight and logistics systems to cope. However, rising commodity prices are an issue in that they are altering the terms of trade both within and between nations, thereby redirecting income and spending flows.
Topic: Conrad Black opinion piece on Biden’s Keystone XL pipeline decision
In his opinion piece, Conrad Black is once again frothing at the mouth argues that “Canada absolutely has to retaliate for the outrageous and cavalier cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline,” arguing that the proposed pipeline is “a carbon-neutral and environmentally safe pipeline and its cancellation will lead to more expensive and ecologically risky means of transporting oil, as well as economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of Americans and Canadians.”
Topic: Opinion piece on antitrust enforcement against Big Agriculture
In their opinion piece, Rob Larew and Diana Moss of the Modern Farmer emphasise that the step up in antitrust enforcement against Big Tech needs to be directed toward Big Agriculture. They argue that because sectors like food and agriculture “are essential to the health, safety and well-being of consumers, and even to our national security,” antitrust laws must be enforced against violations in these sectors. They write that “much like their counterparts in the tech sector, many of the largest food and agriculture corporations have acquired their way to dominance by gobbling up rival businesses,” and they emphasises that “some parts of the agriculture sector are rife with other damaging antitrust violations that we haven’t seen in Big Tech. This includes alleged conspiracies to fix prices and allocate markets—practices that are made possible by high levels of consolation and concentration.”
Topic: West Coast Reduction Ltd helps export
One of Canada’s largest canola oil storage hubs out of the Port of Vancouver, West Coast Reduction Ltd. is helping Canada to sell more canola oil to the world. Approximately 20 million metric tonnes of canola is grown by Canadian farmers each year (with 90 percent destined for export); however, the Canola Council of Canada aims to produce 26 million metric tonnes annually by 2025. Challenging this goal is the issue of transportation and storage, particularly as this goal entails increasing exports by about $3.5 billion per year between 2021 and 2025. West Coast Reduction intends to address this concern, as the company has the capacity to both store canola in oil form (with over 83,000 metric tonnes of alternative-liquid storage at its Port of Vancouver facility) and export it directly to Asian-Pacific markets. Additionally, in order to keep up with the increase in demand, West Coast Reduction has also been broadening its canola storage and export capacity by completing a $9.5 million expansion of its shipping terminal in 2014 and 2015, increasing its canola oil handling capacity by 25 percent through updates to its rail lines and a piping system that transfers canola oil to ships in the dock.
Topic: A history of phosphorus cultivation and use
The Atlantic writer Julia Rosen documents the environmental and agricultural history of phosphorus cultivation and use, includings its importance as a fertilizer and a potential “phosphorus catastrophe” in the future, where “the clear consensus among phosphorus experts is that humans must start mending the phosphorus cycle to reduce the environmental damage caused by pollution and to waste less of an increasingly scarce resource.”
Topic: Ukraine soft milling wheat export prices fall under Russian export pressure
A jump in Russian grain exports ahead of future exports restrictions has led to Ukrainian soft milling wheat export prices to fall by $10 to $11 per tonne in the second week of February, according to APK-Inform. Ukraine has sold 29.4 million tonnes of grain abroad in the 2020/2021 July-June season so far (20.5 percent less than the same period in the previous season), which included 13.09 million tonnes of wheat, 11.8 million tonnes of corn, and 3.95 million tonnes of barley. The government has noted that while Ukraine sold about 57 million tonnes of grain to foreign buyers in the 2019-2020 season, they expect that exports could decline to 45.4 million tonnes in the 2020-2021 season due to a weaker harvest.
Topic: Sector-wide commodities ‘bull market’ anticipated as prices rise in tandem
Analysts and investors state that the upswing in commodity prices following the apex of the pandemic “represents just the first leg of a sector-wide ‘bull market’ fanned by government spending.” Anticipating a repeat of the “supercycle” of the 2000s—in which oil and metal prices hit record highs in response to China’s rapid industrialization—some Wall Street banks are encouraging their investors to “increase their exposure to raw materials, which are poised to benefit from a vaccine-driven global economic recovery, aided by fiscal stimulus.” While some investors claim that the market is not yet ready to begin a new supercycle, those who are predicting a new supercycle “point to global recovery programmes that put greater emphasis on job creation and environmental sustainability than on inflation control.”
Topic: Big grains rally mean US farmers optimistic about crop revenues
Many farmers are capitalising on 2021 being “their most profitable season in years” due to increased demand for exports and domestic processing industries that produce animal feed and biofuel, with many farmers expecting high crop revenues for the first time in years. The USDA forecasted a 73 percent drawdown in soybean stocks (the biggest year-on-year decline since 1963) and a 19 percent drop in corn supplies (the biggest drop in a decade), while new-crop soybean prices are 25 percent higher than they were in 2020 and new-crop corn prices are up 15 percent from 2020.
Topic: Record high of US soybeans exported in containers, decline in share of total exports
A record high 2.5 million tonnes of US soybeans were exported in the first four months of the 2020-2021 US marketing year, accounting for 6.3% of total exports. However, despite this high, the share of total US soybean exports being sent in containers has declined from previous years and is currently at its lowest level since the same period in 2017.
Topic: Surge in corn prices following record Chinese purchases leave traders wondering
Farmers and analysts are left wondering if the surge in corn prices following record purchases by China can be maintained. The surge in imports of corn comes as a surprise to many given China’s previous goals for self-sufficiency, with the US Department of Agriculture announcing that China had bought a record 11.3 million tonnes of corn in 2020 and another 2.1 million tonnes in late January 2021—the largest single sale to the country in history and the second largest on record. Some view the rise in Chinese imports as temporary, while others see it as “more of a cyclical issue than a structural one.” Pete Meyer, head of grain and oilseed analytics at S&P Global Platts states that “the gap between China’s production and consumption of corn has been steadily rising in the past few crop years,” with Meyer anticipating this gap to rise to 30-32 million tonnes in 2021-2022.
Topic: Sask Wheat encourages farmers to participate in Canada Grain Act consultations
The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (Sask Wheat) encourages grain farmers to participate in the consultations on the Canadian Grain Act review. Brett Halstead, Sask Wheat Chair, notes that “Sask Wheat is actively participating in this review, but there will be a great opportunity to influence the changes in the Act if as many farmers as possible contribute their opinions and experiences during the review.” In this review, topics to be discussed include variety classification, producer payment protection, Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) oversight on objective measurements, access to binding determination, and improved data collection and reporting. Farmers have until 30 April, 2021 to submit their feedback.
Topic: BBC discusses the ageing trend in agriculture
In this article written for their multimedia Follow the Food series, which investigates how agriculture is responding to several ongoing economic, social, and political issues, the BBC documents the global trend of ageing farmers. According to the International Labor Organization, the percentage of people working in agriculture has dropped from 44 percent in 1991 to 26 percent in 2020 due not only to growing use of agricultural technology, but also to the fact that people no longer want to work on farms. The BBC notes that in developed countries (the US included), the average age of the farmer is sixty, while across the global the average age of farmers is increasing as rural youth turn to the city for work. The article lists several reasons that young people are hesitant to take up farming, from farming being regarded as “badly paid work for unskilled people,” to environmentally conscious young workers questioning agriculture’s green credentials, to spiralling prices and gender gaps that bar access to land. Citing the World Food Programme, the article notes that “as many as 150 million people could be lifted out of hunger and poverty if women farmers had the same access to agricultural resources as men.” Ultimately, the BBC argues that “if our society can begin to break down the barriers that are keeping the next generation of agricultors off the fields, we could see the beginnings of a return to the land.”
Topic: US export window increased by harvesting delays in Brazil
Due to harvesting delays in Brazil, buyers led by China are being prompted to depend on rival exporter the US for longer than normal in 2021. This sustained demand for US soybeans is rapidly accelerating a historic drawdown of US supplies and has the potential to further drive up soybean prices at a time of food inflation resulting from food hoarding during the pandemic. While Brazil usually harvests its soybeans in the first three months of the year (indicating an end to the dominance of US exports), this process has been delayed by last year’s drought slowing planting and rainfall at harvest time. Brazil’s shipment of soybeans in January were 28 times lower than in 2020 at 49,500 tonnes. The US, by contrast, had approximately 8.9 million tonnes for shipment in January (the highest on record). It is anticipated that in February, Brazilian soybean shipments could be as little as 6 million tonnes, down from 8.5 million tonnes initially expected, with supplies only expected to normalize by March.
Topic: Bottlenecks in Southern California mean offshore anchorage, supply chain disruptions as shipping companies look for alternatives
Bottlenecks at the main US trade gateways in Southern California have resulted in cargo vessels anchoring offshore and some container lines and their importing customers looking for alternative paths. France’s CMA CGM SA said it was replacing a weekly six-ship service from China to Los Angeles with a separate sailing to Oakland, California, and Seattle, while some carriers have canceled sailings altogether rather than have their ships tied up for extended periods of time at a single port. As a result of the backups, inventories have been tied up for weeks and supply-chain stresses are rising. However, industry observers do not expect the backups to be cleared soon, stating that “companies are still trying to step up the pace of inventory restocking while Chinese reproduction and exports remain strong.”