Compiled 29/06/2020

Mexico hits pause on sending temporary foreign workers after COVID-19 deaths


Topic: Mexico halts sending temporary foreign workers after two COVID-19 deaths

On Monday, May 15, 2020, Mexican ambassador Jose Gomez Camacho announced that Mexico will not send any more temporary foreign workers to Canada until the deaths of two due to COVID-19 are accounted for. The two men were employed by different farms in the Windsor, Ontario area, which has seen ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19. Ontario Premier Doug Ford insisted that “‘I don’t want any finger pointing at these hard-working migrant workers. They’re good people, they mean well, and they’re hard workers too.’” In response to the deaths as well as the belief that 300 Mexican temporary foreign workers across Canada are infected with COVID-19, Gomez Camacho has said “his government needs assurances that the situation can be brought into control . . . before allowing more workers to arrive.” This would mean a further blow to the agriculture industry’s ongoing labour shortages, although Gomez Camacho reassures that the halt will be temporary. He recognises the importance of Mexican temporary foreign workers to Canadian agriculture, stating, “‘We understand the role these workers play in your food chain.’”

In apparent rejection of federal court, EPA allows continued dicamba use


Topic: Trump’s EPA pushes back against federal court ruling banning dicamba use

The Trump administration rejected a federal court ruling issued on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 that immediately banned weed killer dicamba’s use on soybean and cotton crops, announcing that farmers will be able to continue to spray dicamba through to July 31. The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the federal registration of dicamba in response to a lawsuit filed by farming and conservation groups the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, and the Center Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network. The court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “underestimated and ignored many risks that the weed killer posed to other farmers and natural areas,” Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting writer Johnathan Hettinger reports. Dicamba use increased following Monsanto’s introduction of genetically engineered soybean and cotton crops resistant to herbicide. Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has faced hundreds of lawsuits over dicamba, which has damaged many acres of non-resistant crops and natural areas. Others argue that since many weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, dicamba is the only remaining effective herbicide needed for spraying season. 

Brexit talks hit by row over EU subsidies for farmers


Topic: EU accused of trying to block the UK government from defending British farmers

British and EU negotiators clashed over €70 billion of subsidies handed to European farmers by Brussels, with the EU’s negotiation team accused of trying to block the UK government from defending British farmers from cut-price European imports. As the UK’s agriculture industry faces great change following the country’s exit from the single market and the customs union at the end of the year, Guardian writer Daniel Boffey reports that the “British government is concerned at the potential for heavily subsidised EU farmers to exploit the period of uncertainty.” This anxiety came to a head following clauses contained in the European’s commission’s draft legal text for a future free trade deal. These clauses would have the EU and UK agree that unrestricted subsidies, known as “green box payments,” are not in effect price distorting and cannot be countered with “‘anti-subsidy proceedings nor be subjected to price or cost adjustments in anti-dumping investigations.’” David Frost, head of the UK negotiation team, argues that such a clause would limit the government’s ability to protect the UK’s farming industry.

Bayer settles bulk of Roundup lawsuits for up to $10.9bn


Topic: Bayer pays up to $10.9 billion in Roundup lawsuits settlements

Bayer faces approximately 125,000 claims in the US and up to $10.9 billion in settlements over the potential carcinogenic effects of its herbicide Roundup. Bayer will pay up to $9.6 billion to resolve about three-quarters of the outstanding Roundup cases as part of the settlement, setting aside a further $1.25 billion to deal with future fallout. Up to $5 billion of that amount will be paid out in 2020, with a further $5 billion paid out in 2021 and largely financed from the company’s existing free cash flow and the proceeds of the sale of its Animal Health business. Bayer, which first acquired Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, has dealt with the legal fallout from Roundup, originally a Monsanto product, since August 2018 when a California court issued the first ruling linking it to cancer and awarded claimants substantial compensation. Bayer will also pay approximately $820 million to settle cases related to water pollution from the use of PCBs, a now-banned toxic chemical compound, and $400 million to settle allegations that its dicamba-based herbicide damaged crops. 

Don Martin: After Trudeau’s toughest talk, the Canada-China meltdown goes radioactive


Topic: Don Martin opinion piece on Canada-China relationship following Trudeau’s Meng decision

CTV writer Don Martin responds to Trudeau’s decision to refuse the extradition of Meng Wanzhou in exchange for the release of two Canadians detained in China. Martin argues that “somehow overnight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to give up on China, endure the deep freeze and face the inevitable economic backlash by soundly rejecting the Meng-for-Michaels proposal.” Citing Trudeau, Martin warns that if the proposed swap of Meng for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was to go ahead, China would be “emboldened to become unscrupulous hostage-takers, seizing foreigners for trade when one of their own gets in trouble overseas.” Martin goes on to anticipate “a hefty price to pay for this [decision]” ranging from Canadian exports to China potentially facing increased scrutiny to the death knell of Huawei’s plan to develop 5G telecommunications networks in Canada. 

U.S. meat companies warned of shortages and an executive order kept them open. At the same time, they were expecting record amounts of pork China


Topic: US Senators Warren and Booker accuse major meat companies of deregulatory measures during pandemic

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker accused Smithfield, Tyson, Cargill, and JBS of using the COVID-19 crisis to “‘achieve substantial deregulatory measures’” that allowed them to stay open to supply the US food chain while exporting record amounts of pork and other meats to China. Warren and Booker sent a letter on Monday 22, 2020 demanding answers from the four companies on why they “‘manipulated a global pandemic to profit.’” The US exported more than 810 million pounds of pork to mainland China from January through April 20, 2020, according to the USDA. The USDA’s Economic Research Service expects pork production for 2020 to be even higher than it was last year.

Old corporates, new tricks: Scoular launches app to take the paper out of the grain shipping industry


Topic: Scoular launches app to digitize paper-based grain shipping industry

Major grain supply chain company Scoular have built a new app, Roger, that focuses on digitizing the traditionally paper-based grain shipping industry to allow for faster processes and payments for trucking companies. Five other major commodities houses co-invested in Roger in a deal that closed in April: The Andersons, Cargill, Consolidated Grain and Barge Co, Koch Fertilizer, and Bushel, a North Dakota startup that helped develop the app. While Roger is focused on being used in-house, the co-investors hope to open access to the app to modernize the grain industry. AgFunder News writer Lauren Stine points out that Scoular is one of many old corporations that are embracing technological innovation in a rapidly developing industry, such as Wilbur Ellis’s Cavallo Ventures launching venture capital arms, or Cargill completing a $12 million intercontinental wheat trade through blockchain.

Compiled 15/06/2020

US soybean farmers stare at inventory, price challenges amid US-China tensions, Brazil competition


Topic: Growing US-China tensions and Brazilian competition concern US soybean farmers

Facing increased competition from Brazilian soybeans and uncertain US-China relations, US soybean farmers anticipate a surplus of stock and falling prices in the new marketing year. S&P Global Platts writer Asim Anand reports: “According to Platts Analytics, US soybean stocks are expected to be at 15.4 million tons in 2020-21, up 41% from the latest US Department of Agriculture forecast report, released May 12.” Anand notes that agriculture analysts expect China to turn to South American soybeans as tensions between Washington and Beijing continue, pointing out that China bought 27 percent more Brazilian soybeans in the first five months of 2020 compared with last year. Speaking with director of ARC Mercosul Matheus Pereira, Pereira states that “‘since China accounts for almost 65% of global soybeans demand, it is impossible for the US to find significant alternatives for such a big demand driver’” should China turn to Brazilian soybeans. 

Topic Page: Fertilizers – navigating the global downturn


Topic: Topic page for impacts of COVID-19 on fertilizer markets

The sharp global economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse in crude oil prices has wide-ranging implications for the fertilizers industry. This topic page is meant to help readers stay up to date at this unprecedented time with expert insight and analysis of the impact these developments are having on fertilizer markets.

Fieldcoin: Buy Land, Empower People

Topic: Creating the first blockchain-based land marketplace

Using blockchain technology to connect landowners with crowdfunding investors, Fieldcoin’s mission is “to bring the blockchain technology to land property transactions and agricultural crowdfunding projects while creating a stable transaction instrument to ease the process of land and agribusiness acquisition.” Boasting “four of the most disruptive innovations: IoT, Blockchain technology, 4.0 Agribusiness Technologies, and Crowdfunding,” Fieldcoin operates as a decentralized land property management marketplace. 

Trudeau promises to extend the emergency benefit relief


Topic: Trudeau announces extension of emergency benefit relief

On June 15, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government will extend the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB). The extension is meant to aid those who cannot return to work despite certain sectors of the economy opening up. Trudeau also announced that the government will start accepting new applications for the Canada emergency business account (CEBA) beginning Friday June 19, 2020. The CEBA program eligibility will now include sole proprietors and farmers. This program offers government-backed loans of up to $40,000 administered by banks and interest-free until the end of 2022. The federal government has also said a 25 percent forgiveness of loans, up to $10,000, will be offered to those who pay their loans back on time.

Compiled 8/06/2020

China halts some U.S. farm imports, threatening trade deal


Topic: China-US trade deal in jeopardy as China halts some US farm imports

Chinese government officials have told major state-run agricultural companies such as Cofco and Sinograin to suspend their purchases of some American farm goods in response to escalating tensions between Hong Kong and the US. Bloomberg News writes that the measures “come after President Donald Trump on Friday lobbed a barrage of criticism at Beijing after it moved to impose controversial new national security legislation on Hong Kong.” As part of the “phase one” trade deal between China and the US signed in January 2020, China had agreed to purchase approximately $36.5 billion worth of US farm goods. As China reopened its economy after lockdown, they halted the pace of imports following Trump’s accusations that China did not accurately document the scale and risk of the coronavirus outbreak. The fallout between the two nations hit commodities markets the hardest, with China choosing to buy Brazilian soy instead of American. 

‘It’s unsettling:’ Ranchers and feedlots worried about future impact of COVID-19


Topic: Ranchers and feedlots concerned about future impact of COVID-19 on industry

Canadian Press writer Bill Graveland interviews several ranchers and feedlots on their concerns for the future of the industry following COVID-19’s impact on meat-packing and processing plants. Farmer Chelsea Reid and feedlot owner Tom Thorlakson emphasise that the issue comes down to holding capacity and a surplus of animals. Thorlakson tells Graveland that his family’s feedlot has animals that were meant to be shipped to meat plants in mid-April, with feed costs running to about $1 million a month. For both Reid and Thorlakson, the uncertainty of the future “is the most unsettling part.” Both express concern that while their operations should remain stable through the fallout, other operations don’t have the same reassurance. 

Brazil’s soy exports set March record


Topic: Brazil’s soybean exports reach March record of 11.6 million tonnes

Argus Media writer José Roberto Gomes reports Brazil’s soybean exports to have reached a March record of 11.6 million tonnes due to a record harvest in the 2019-2020 cycle of more than 124 million tonnes and after rains pushed February exports to March. The new March record is a 38 percent increase from the same month in 2019. Gomes reports that soymeal exports were flat on an annual basis, while soy oil shipments were 10 percent lower year-on-year, totalling 102,400 tonnes. Corn exports were 45 percent lower in March in comparison to March of 2019, while cotton lint exports were 44 percent higher year-on-year, reaching 140,700 tonnes in March 2020.

Agriculture markets eye normality as countries ease export restrictions


Topic: Agriculture markets move towards normality as export restrictions are eased

In an analysis of data released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, S&P Global Platts reports more than 90 countries revealed that cereal complex prices increased in March and April 2020. In response to price warnings and the threat of food insecurity, many countries have put measures in place to limit exports, sell grain from government stocks, reduce import duty to manage food inflation, and implement price ceilings. Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States countries have imposed stronger measures that limit agricultural exports, while North African countries increased imports and relaxed restrictions to secure supplies. In an interview with Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist with the Food and Agriculture Organization, Abbassian tells S&P Global Platts that major exporting countries are looking towards normality despite current curbs on grain exports. The bigger concern for the grains and oilseeds complex is the loss of demand following the impact of COVID-19 on the agriculture industry.

FAO Food Price Index falls to 17-month low


Topic: Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index falls to 17-month low

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Price Index, which tracks international prices of commonly traded food commodities, averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, the lowest reading since December 2018 according to a June 5, 2020 report. The FAO Dairy Price Index declined 7.3 percent from April, while the FAO Sugar Price Index rose 7.4 percent from April. The FAO Cereal Price Index declined 1 percent from April; the FAO Vegetable Oil Index fell 2.8 percent to a 10-month low; and the FAO Meat Price Index fell by 0.8 percent in May. FAO’s Cereal Supply and Demand Brief reports that global cereal production is projected to reach a new record level of 2,780 million tonnes, which is 2.6 percent higher than the 2019/2020 cycle. The FAO also expects world cereal trade in 2020/2021 to rise by 2.2 percent to 433 million tonnes.

Shipping industry warns of trade logjam as crews remain stranded


Topic: Shipping industry warns of threat to global trade due to journey restrictions

Journey restrictions introduced due to COVID-19 have left as many as 400,000 crew stranded both at sea or at home, prompting the shipping industry to warn of a potential threat to world trade. These restrictions prevent crew from disembarking to return home or from travelling from port to port for crew changes. The shipping industry calls for governments to create “safe corridors” between key countries and crew change hubs and to designate seafarers as “key workers,” allowing them to move without restrictions when leaving or joining a vessel. 

The Country Slaughterhouse as a Factor in the Spread of Disease


Topic: 1897 US Department of Agriculture report documents spread of disease in slaughterhouses

In a 1897 printed report by CH Wardell Stiles, Ph. D., working for the Bureau of Animal Industry in the US Department of Agriculture, Stiles discusses the role of local slaughterhouses in the spread of disease. Stiles differentiates local “slaughterhouses” from large “abattoirs,” stating that abattoirs “prepare meat for export and interstate trade in accordance with the system of Government inspection now in force” while slaughterhouses “are used chiefly by the meat dealers of the country towns.” After investigating several slaughterhouses, Stiles reports that poor conditions of premises, vermin infestation, unhygienic practices, and diseased animals make them a “center of disease.” He lists two preventative methods: one, to reduce in number or segregate slaughterhouses, and two, to control disease-spreading agents. Stiles also suggests changing building materials of local slaughterhouses, introducing animal inspections, placing slaughterhouses “under the State board rather than under the local boards,” and implementing increased rights and duties for farmers.

How slaughterhouses became breeding grounds for coronavirus


Topic: High infection rates among slaughterhouse employees contribute to coronavirus outbreaks

Slaughterhouse working practices are under renewed scrutiny following high infection rates among employees worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Financial Times writers Emiko Terazono and Andres Schipani report that “the problem has been exacerbated because meat-processing employees were designated essential in many countries. This meant they generally carried on working in close-confines, helping to spread the disease to the wider community.” Terazono and Schipani analyze how certain countries have responded to this renewed scrutiny. They note how Brazilian prosecutors are negotiating with the country’s meat suppliers to put in place safety measures for slaughterhouse workers after meat-packing giant JBS was sued for failing to agree to a deal to improve working conditions. Jais Valeur, chief executive at Danish Crown, Europe’s largest meat producer, emphasised the transparency of Danish Crown’s plants, with Valeur stating that “it’s important that people know what it actually involves to produce what’s on your table and also be willing to pay for it.‘