Ample feed grains supply but slower global growth may temper demand 

In the latest economic assessment of the global economy, the international monetary fund (IMF) project global growth of 3.3% in 2015, lower than anticipated, and below 2014. While global growth is expected to strengthen next year, especially in the advanced economies, the continued slowdown in emerging markets reflects several factors including, lower commodity prices, tighter external financial conditions, structural bottlenecks, rebalancing in China and economic distress related to geopolitical factors, the IMF see a rebound in activity in a number of distressed economies resulting in a pickup in global growth, forecast at 3.8 percent in 2016.


In an exceptional week, the Peoples’ Bank of China (PBOC), stunned financial markets by devaluing the yuan on 11 August, following a stream of poor financial results and weak trade data; two subsequent devaluations followed and triggered the biggest asset sell-off in over 20 years — turbulent stock market reaction and the lack of government control to stabilize them, dented confidence as investors exited yuan-denominated assets, for assets in other currencies, particularly the US dollar. Since the devaluation, the yuan has fallen by over 4% to the dollar, increasing competitive pressure on its Asian neighbours, and on other emerging countries, including Russia, many of them commodity exporters — their currencies already struggling with tumbling commodity prices and the imminent prospect of a US interest rate hike possibly as early as this month.

The decision to devalue the yuan, which makes Chinese exports more competitive, while raising the cost of imported commodities like grain, oilseeds and feed ingredients, coincided with the release of USDA’s crop report, which confirmed that despite adverse weather conditions during the growing season, and the continuing concern over El Nin~o’s effect in some regions, global grain and oilseed crops, while 1% below last year, are on track, to produce another 2.5bn/t harvest, for the third consecutive year. The prospect of large grain and oilseed supplies led to steep falls in prices across the grain/oilseed complex. Feed demand is expected to show a modest rise compared with the previous year’s all-time high, with a marginal increase in food and industrial demand.

Global wheat and coarse grain output is forecast at over 2bn/t in 2015, below last year’s exceptional record output, mainly due to smaller corn and barley crop, partially offset by a larger sorghum crop, with better crops in Argentina, India, Mexico and the US. There is a small increase for feed wheat and higher feed use of coarse grains by Brazil, China and the US, driving global consumption for grains, forecast to rise to 199mt (million tonnes). Global supply of grains are more than adequate to meet demand, while ample stocks are expected to rise to 449mt by the end of 2015/16. The global oilseed crop is forecast 8mt lower than last year at 529mt, mostly due to smaller crops of rapeseed, cottonseed and sunflowerseed; unlike last year, better crush margins in the first half of the year are expected to remain positive, and with lower prices, feed consumption of oil-meals are forecast to rise to 297mt reflecting rising demand in China, and in a number of other countries.

USDA forecast global wheat output at 727mt, eclipsing last year’s record, albeit with some quality issues, while quantity of feed wheat expected to be higher. Smaller crops in the EU (148mt), Canada (27mt) and India (90mt) are offset by better crops in Russia (60mt), China (130mt), the US (58mt),Turkey (20mt) and Morocco (8mt) and in a number of other countries. Feed usage of wheat is forecast at 136mt, slightly above last year; while a much reduced EU corn crop, hit by scorching temperatures in June, may provide scope for increasing feed wheat use in EU animal feed rations.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Buenos Aires Grains Exchange confirmed that Argentine wheat plantings on 3.7m/ha, are lower than last year, with dryness in northern areas cutting yield potential.

Disenchantment with government policy, low wheat prices and restrictions on wheat exports encouraged growers to favour barley and other crops over wheat; with forthcoming elections in October growers look for change of leadership to improve outlook. USDA forecast the Argentine wheat crop at over 11mt — other analysts forecast the crop just over 10mt flagging dryness, smaller area and reduced inputs affecting yields. The outlook for Australia’s 2015 wheat crop has improved as the worst fears prompted by El Nin~o, recede. USDA forecasts the Australian crop at 26mt, other analysts while brokers Pentag Nidera forecast a crop around 23–24mt. Although the continuing threat of El Nin~o for Australian crops remains throughout the growing season, and regional dryness remain a concern, so far precipitation has been timely and many crops are said to have excellent yield potential.

Despite some production problems this year, better crop prospects in a number of countries including Iran, Morocco and Turkey, have reduced the need for imports partially offset by small increases noted for China, India — due to tight supplies of high-quality wheat-and the EU — mostly cheap feed wheat from Ukraine. The global wheat trade is expected to contract by 4mt to 157mt in 2015/16, intensifying fierce competition between rival exporters — wheat exports are forecast lower for Canada and the EU, but raised for the US, Australia, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. At a recent tender for wheat issued by Egypt’s grain buyer the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), the bids received totalled 1.4mt — Egypt eventually bought 120,000/t of Russian wheat at a cost $198.73/t including freight-representing a price fall of $6/t since late July, and the lowest purchase price since 2009/10.


Black Sea countries’ wheat, typically the price leader during the first part of the season, are forecast to export a record 42mt in 2015/16, almost 27% of the global exports; this year Russian exports have lagged due to the uncertainty surrounding the timing of the wheat export tax. Asian buyers in South Korea, Thailand and Philippines snapped-up early offers of 3mt cheap feed wheat for delivery between July and December — the Philippines buying 100,000/t of Ukrainian feed wheat for shipment in September and October at around $210–220/t C&F (cost and freight), while CBOT’s wheat September contract closed at $5.03/bu ($184.4/t — 18 August); with UK Feed wheat November contract at new lows of £115.50/t ($181.41 — 18 August). 


In the USDA’s latest, and somewhat controversial report, global coarse grain production is forecast at 1,277mt (corn 986mt, barley 139mt, sorghum 69mt), the year-on-year-decline due largely to a contraction in global corn output to 986mt; but it was the estimate for the US corn crop that drew most attention, being significantly higher than analysts and markets anticipated.


Coarse grain use is forecast to grow by 8mt to 1,282mt, with feed use forecast to rise by over 11mt above last year’s exceptional level, to a record 771mt, offsetting a small reduction for food and industry. Global trade is expected to rise by 1mt to 168mt, led by a hike of 6mt to 15mt for corn imports into the EU, due to a poor domestic corn harvest. US coarse grain exports are forecast higher at 58mt, Black Sea 30mt (Russia 8mt Ukraine 22mt), Brazil 28mt, Argentina 19mt and Australia 7mt. Global coarse grain stocks expected to fall by 5mt to 227mt, with major exporter stocks down a similar amount.


USDA estimated US corn production at 348mt (13.7bn/bu) based on yields of168.8 bu/acre. The forecast released in August, is the first of the growing season to be based on surveys of farmers and field observations and sharply exceeded analyst estimates of 338mt (13.3 bn/bu) on yields of 164.4 bu/acre, on both area and yield; when combined with better prospects for wheat and soybean output, large stocks and slow demand, led to a steep price fall. CBOT futures December corn contract fell from $3.93/bu to a low of $3.57/bu before closing at $3.68/bu (Aug 12). The US corn crop at 348mt is 13mt lower than last year, smaller corn crops are also anticipated for Brazil 79mt, Argentina 25mt, the EU 62mt and in the Ukraine 27mt, partially offset by a record Chinese crop 225mt, and, better crops in India and Canada-global corn production in 2015/16 forecast at 986mt, 20mt below last year’s exceptional harvest.


Both USDA and the International Grains Council (IGC) forecast a larger corn crop for China at 225mt, made possible by the generous level of government support to grain growers. Concerns about the high level of support for corn and the need to scale-back support are under review, with possible changes to be introduced next year, given that the policy has led to, a domestic price for corn well-above world market rates, rising imports of low-cost feed ingredients, like sorghum (not covered by quotas), and huge overpriced stockpiles of corn. By the end of 2015/16 China’s domestic corn stocks are forecast by USDA at 90mt, by IGC at 100mt while other analysts put the figure closer to 150mt.

However, in an exceptional week for commodity and economic activity, and following the devaluation of the Chinese yuan, the Chinese government also, announced that from 1 September 2015, importers of sorghum, barley, cassava and distillers’ dried grains & solubles (DDGS) will need to register purchases.

Unlike corn, currently these feed ingredients, are not subject to a quota system — although due to the higher price of domestic corn, imports of these feed ingredients have surged.

For some time, market speculation has been rife over what measures China would adopt to stifle rising imports of sorghum, up from 84,000/t (2011/12) to 11mt in 2015/16; barley up from 2.5mt (2011/12) to 7mt and DDGS 4-5mt in 2013/14, until imports were halted amid concerns about contamination with MIR 162, a Syngenta corn variety cleared in Washington but not in Beijing; this locked Chinese buyers, out of the US market. The variety was subsequently cleared and the problem resolved, but not without significant delays and huge costs. Imports of DDGS resumed at the turn of this year, with Chinese imports reaching an historic high in June of 967,529/t — as Chinese feed millers exploit relatively cheaper foreign supplies exacerbating the government’s dilemma, the disposal of a mountain of over-priced, dubious quality, corn. US FOB (free on board) Gulf vessel prices (September) DDGS $208/t (18 August).

Corn for ethanol use, is forecast to rise by 1mt to 133mt to produce c.14.4bn gallons of ethanol and 40mt of DDGS for feed use in 2015/16. And, as in previous years, the ethanol industry continues to challenge the ‘blend wall’, which limits the amount of ethanol used to 10% in a blend with gasoline. This is seen by many ethanol supporters as a myth propagated by the US petroleum lobby, to prevent the take-up of blends with a higher ethanol content, like E15 and E85, even though, a much higher proportion of ethanol — up to 27% — is mixed with gasoline, and tolerated by regular vehicles in Brazil. A further challenge is the proposal put forward by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to cut the 21Bn/gallons of ethanol, mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a programme signed into law (Energy Policy Act 2005), by almost 4bn/gallons, to 17bn/gallons of ethanol, to be blended with gasoline by 2016. The EPA proposal is seen as a barrier to the development of higher blends and weakens the mandated obligation on the petroleum industry, to utilize 36bn/gallons of bio-fuels by 2022. Unsurprisingly, the changes proposed have met with fierce opposition from US grain growers and the Renewable Fuels lobby-with the deadline for comments closed, a decision from the EPA is expected in November

Responding to questions from investors about the ethanol business, following presentation of ADM’s second quarter financial results, which highlighted loss of profits in the ethanol sector and the impact of sharply lower petroleum prices, CEO Juan Luciano expressed confidence in ethanol in the medium-and longer-term. While the risk of higher imports with a strong 

dollar was possible, US ethanol exports moved at an annualized rate of 800m/gallons and they continue to see international markets develop and identify ethanol as the most sustainable/low cost alternative to replace 6bn/gallons of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) capacity. Regarding E15 and higher blends — ADM believes that USDA investment combined with the ethanol industry’s efforts will ensure they play a more meaningful role possibly by 2017 or 2018.


The FAO meat price index averaged over 174 points in July, above June but down from 183 points in January, and, well below 2014 values; the decline affecting all categories of meat. International prices of beef moved up, offsetting a decline for pig and sheep meat, while poultry quotations remained stable. Prices of beef from Australia, in particular, rose, supported by stronger import demand from the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea, amongst others. Muted domestic demand for pig meat in some EU member states caused quotations to fall, with export prices following suit.

Global meat production is forecast to expand in 2015 to 319mt (beef 68mt, poultry 112mt, pig 119mt sheep14mt), 8mt up on last year, with the largest increases expected in China, the EU, US and Brazil, and mostly driven by pig and poultry meat. Government support policies are anticipated to boost pig meat output in China to 58mt, almost half of the world total, with similar growth rates forecast for Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia; while the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea are set to recover following last year’s outbreaks of porcine endemic diarrhoea (PED), which reduced piglet numbers. Brazil, Canada and Mexico, are set to increase output, due to lower feed costs. Steady growth is also anticipated for Mexico, underpinned by improved genetics and productivity with further expansion in the EU. In the Russian Federation, government policies favouring large-scale farms resulted in a doubling of production over the decade, and likely to increase in 2015, following the ban imposed last year, on pork imports from the EU and Canada that previously provided two-thirds of Russian imports.


Trade is predicted to slow to over 31mt in 2015, constrained by limited export supplies and subdued import demand — while growth is forecast for beef, pigs and poultry, it is reduced for sheep meat. For beef, much of the 2015 expansion in trade is likely to be met by India and Brazil. Russia extended the ban on food imports of meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, milk and dairy, worth $9bn from the US, EU, Australia Canada and Norway, to 2016.

Quotes for corn from all origins are down, generally touching five-year lows — US corn quotes dropped over $30/t to $170/t on generally favourable growing conditions, a stronger dollar, and competition from large South American supplies. Argentine and Brazilian quotes — helped by a near 23% drop in the value of the Brazilian real, making Brazil the cheapest source of corn — both origins maintaining a discount to US prices. South Korea's Feed Leaders Committee (FLC) purchased 60,000/t yellow corn to be sourced from optional origins in a tender for up to 140,000/t (13 August). The corn was purchased at $187.50/t C&F for arrival on 16 February, plus a $1.50/t surcharge for additional port unloading. Corn futures improved over the week, with buying tied to ideas that the US corn yield will turn out significantly lower than the USDA estimate — CBOT December contract closed at $3.77/bu ($148.44) (18 August).


Smaller harvest is expected in the EU 57mt, Russia 17mt, Canada 7mt, partially offset by larger harvests in Argentina 3mt, Australia 9mt Morocco 4mt and Turkey 7mt with output forecast at 139mt down over 1mt from last year. Feed use is forecast lower at 94mt, with trade forecast down to 25mt; China due to imports of competing feed ingredients are lower at 7mt, and Iran 1.5mt due to better harvests, while Saudi Arabia imports are forecast to rise to 7mt. Like other feed grains, barley values are lower than last year — quotes for French barley FOB Rouen ($177/t-Aug 18); UK Feed Barley Merchant Nov £94–104/t ($147.06-$162.71/t-Aug 13).

An increase in the planted area for sorghum, and better crops in the US 13mt, Mexico 8mt, India 5.5mt, Argentina 4.5mt and Australia 2.1mt, boost global output to 69mt over 6mt up on last year. Rising feed/food/industry demand, notably in China, Mexico, India and the US, to increase consumption to 68mt, with global trade up by 3mt to 14mt reflecting rising imports, mostly feed forecast at 11mt for China-US sorghum-October delivery FOB Nola $217.72/t (13 August).

Despite weather concerns, USDA raised its forecast for both the area and yield for US soybeans, to well above what markets were anticipating, lifting global output of soybeans to a record 320mt. Following the report, CBOT soybean futures (November) contract fell from a high of $9.76/bu to close at $9.10/bu (12 August). Since then, reports on the developing crop remain upbeat and together with concerns about future exports to China, weigh heavily on prices. CBOT soybean futures (Nov) contract futures closed lower at $8.935/bu ($328.27/t — 19 August).

Record crop for soybean 320mt, and better crops for groundnut 

41mt, palm kernel 17mt and copra 6mt, are partially offset by areduced crop of rapeseed 65mt — due to reduced crops in Canada,
Australia, the EU, Belarus, and Ukraine; and smaller crops for sunflower 39mt and cottonseed 41mt. Oilseed production is forecast to fall to 529mt in
2015/16, 8mt below last year’s exceptional harvest but still the second largest crop on record; global crush is expected to increase to 446mt driven by soybean demand, with greater uptake of oil-meals up 10mt to 297mt, mostly reflecting rising protein demand in China, and in a number of other countries. Global trade in oilseeds is forecast to rise by 1mt to 145mt with oilseed stocks expected to close higher at 96mt; reflecting ample stocks of soybeans while other oilseed stocks are tighter-rapeseed stocks are halved close to just over 3mt, sunflowerseed under 2mt and cottonseed 1mt.

With large soy crops for the US 107mt and South America (Brazil 97mt and Argentina 57mt), global soybean trade is forecast to rise to 127mt, up on last year, as record South American supplies, lower prices and tighter supplies for rape and sunseed, may spur additional sales, with significant increases in sales to China, the EU, and Iran anticipated. The US expects a slow start to the season — strong competition from record South American supplies and a significant weakening of the Brazilian real are contributing to the sluggish pace of exports. Global soybean stocks are forecast to fall by 6mt to 80mt reflecting strong growth in protein meal for animal feed and vegetable oil consumption. USDA forecast the US season average farm price for soybeans at $9.15/bu ($336.17/t).


China — the world’s largest importer of soybeans — is expected to import 79mt of soybeans, with domestic soybean crush forecast at 80mt 2015/16, in response to high demand for soymeal from China’s huge domestic pork industry, and supported by rising pig-meat prices, which year-on-year, rose by 16.7%. According to Shanghai-based analysis group JCI 

Consulting, the average profit margin for hog producers, having recovered to break-even in June, doubled from 400 yuan per head, to 800 yuan per head, in the week to 24 July. The USDA bureau in Beijing confirmed that protein meal demand continues to be driven by growing animal producing capacity, scale animal farming and use of industry feed; with rising demand for pork at 3.3% a year for the next decade, to underpin demand for feed, given the government’s high priority for domestic animal production.


Although strong demand for livestock feed from China's swine sector suggests the appetite for soybeans will persist, the uncertainty caused by the unexpected devaluation of the Chinese yuan that began on 11 August, stunned global financial markets and has had a significant impact on a large number of countries and their currencies, as they digest the implications.

For commodity processors, before the yuan devaluation Wilmar chairman and chief executive Kuok Khoon Hong said the group “expects crushing margins in China to remain positive for the rest of the year”. This view is shared with US-based oilseed processor Bunge which forecast Chinese soybean crush margins for the second half of 2015 at $15/t, down from the $30/t enjoyed in the first half a year, and better than the very narrow or negative margins seen last year. However, some traders post devaluation, forecast a significant cut in crush- margins and expect imports to slow until the uncertainty surrounding devaluation becomes clearer. 


Indian government hopes to barter sugar surplus ‘a non-starter’ say experts

The Indian government put its foot in its mouth when recently it suggested that the crisis in the country’s sugar industry would be mitigated to a large extent by exporting 4mt (million tonnes) of sugar by way of barter trade, writes Kunal Bose. India is highly dependent on imports of petroleum, edible oils and pulses, while at the current sugar season ending in September, the country will have an inventory of around 11mt of the sweetener. At the start of the new season, the required inventory is about 7mt to meet local demand till cane crushing picks up. All this must have led New Delhi to believe that by way of barter transactions, the sugar industry could be relieved of mountains of surplus haemorrhaging all cane crushing factories across the country. The crisis in the industry is so deep that factories are as a matter defaulting in making payments to cane growers. At one point in the current season (October to September) unpaid cane bills amounted to nearly $3.5bn. Delays in settling cane bills are leading a growing number of growers, unable to meet their financial and social commitments, to commit suicide. As it would happen, the government instead of finding a permanent solution to the crisis that periodically visits the industry offers palliatives in the form of loans to factories which in many instances could not be availed because of conditions. 

“Sugar has been in a free fall because of global surplus. At New York ICE futures, sugar is done at around 10.50 cents a pound, a six-year low. In the medium term, there is unlikely to be a trigger to give a boost to sugar prices. The International Sugar Organization (ISO) has revised global surplus for 2014/15 to 3.33mt from the earlier 2.22mt. What will continue to impact the market bearishly is the 25mt accretion in global sugar inventory in the
past five years. Even if there is going to be a deficit of 2.49mt in 2015/16, the market will remain amply supplied because of the inventory,” says Om Prakash Dhanuka, a senior Indian industry official. Abundant availability of sugar at prices which do not cover its production costs, particularly in
India where cane prices in many growing states are arbitrarily decided to win favours of large community of farmers but without any consideration at what rates the sweetener is sold, does not make barter work.

“Why should any country with exportable surpluses of much better marketable commodities at this time be ready to exchange these for sugar that may not have found price bottom as yet?” asks Dhanuka. Grains trade expert Tejinder Narang is on the same page as Dhanuka. Narang says “sugar is largely traded among private parties based on criticality of international parities. Induction of two governments, their official agencies, banks with escrow accounts, etc, to facilitate barter in export process and involving non-sugar related private/public entities... is the best way to abort sugar export.” No wonder using barter to sell as much 4mt of sugar has proved to be a non-starter, causing much embarrassment to New Delhi.

Besides the proposed export medium barter, where New Delhi has also gone wrong is not to spell out that the government will pay for the “difference in sugar production costs and export price.” Naturally the industry, which continues to delve deeper in the red, has remained demonstrably unenthusiastic about bartering sugar for other commodities in the absence of government commitment to underwrite losses. What then is the way out of the crisis? Dhanuka says,“export we must. The country’s outlook for other crops in the current season (July to June) remains a cause for concern. But we are destined to have bumper sugar production in the season beginning October to make it sixth year in a row. Looking at the standing crop across the country, my own estimate is we can have record production of 29mt in 2015/16 with a season opening inventory of 11mt. Unless we are able to export 4mt to 5mt, for which government support is sorely needed, the domestic market will remain in the dumps.”

Analysts are in agreement with Dhanuka, a former president of Indian Sugar Mills Association, that the only way to export is for government trading agencies like STC and MMTC to lift sugar from factories at cost price and then sell it in the world market. This was done in the past with success. To the extent exports happen this way, factory capacity to settle cane bills in time will improve. Interestingly, in spite of factories not settling cane bills in time, growers are not bearing grudges against the industry.Their wrath is rightly directed against the government. This is evident from joint demonstrations by factories and farmers held in New Delhi in more than one occasion protesting against government inaction.


More than half of the country’s farmland being dependent on rains, the nearly 10% deficit in monsoon rains between June and third week of August is to hit hard at least four states, namely, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh and five crops jowar, soybean, tur, maize and cotton, unless the monsoon gains in momentum in later weeks. To be precise, the share of irrigated area as a percentage of the country’s cropped land is 46.9%. But then in Maharashtra, a major cotton and sugarcane growing state, only 18.7% of farmland has the benefit of irrigation and in Karnataka 34.3%. The skewed distribution of irrigation facilities comes to light with 76.7% cropped area in Uttar Pradesh being irrigation covered and 67.4% in Bihar. But then rivers, canals and reservoirs must get filled by monsoon rains.

India’s crucial southwest monsoon starts in June and ends in September. The four states mentioned earlier that stand to suffer the most from deficit monsoon accounts for 34% of the country’s grain production in a normal season while jowar, soybean, tur and maize constitute 26% of total grain and oilseed production.

The monsoon’s erratic and poor progress this year clouding farm output prospects comes on the back of 5.5% setback in foodgrain production during 2014/15 to 251.12mt from the previous year’s record 265.04mt. A monsoon deficit of 12% and unseasonal rains and hailstorms causing large-scale damage to standing wheat and other crops in northern Indian states were the reasons for last season’s farm production fall. From rice to wheat to coarse cereals to pulses to oilseeds almost every crop took a hit last year.

The biggest summer crop that southwest monsoon supports is rice, which is the staple food for millions of Indians. As it would happen, the two major rice growing states West Bengal and Orissa have fallen victims to floods and drought, respectively. A survey by the Financial Express says while “widespread damage” has been caused by heavy rains and floods in five of 20 districts of West Bengal, including rice bowl Burdwan, Orissa where six of 30 districts have experienced 40% monsoon deficit is facing “a drought like situation.” The country’s foreign trade relating to food items will see radical changes in case farm output suffers a major setback. Like imports of edible oils and pulses will rise and the government will be careful in sanctioning exports of rice and wheat but not basmati rice.What, however, defies logic is the government imposing a 10% import duty on wheat when there is a question mark on domestic production of the cereal.The duty has upset flour mills which traditionally import high quality wheat.

New Delhi is not rushing to make a crop forecast for 2015/16 awaiting outcome of the winter crop season (November to March) when wheat and the second rice crop are grown. But taking note of a “drier than average monsoon although rainfall was not as low as feared at the start of the season,” global credit assessor Moody’s Investors Services has cut its India growth forecast for 2015/16 by half a percentage point to 7%. Domestic rating agency CRISIL, however, says India’s GDP growth this financial year will be 7.4% with the farm sector growing 1.5% on a weak base of last fiscal when foodgrain production slipped 5.5%. CRISIL says “any positive surprise on rainfall over the next 45 days can create some upside to our growth outlook.” A benign surprise is, however, highly unlikely since India Meteorological Department thinks the behaviour of rains in the second half will be worse than in the first half.

CRISIL chief economist Dharmakirti Joshi says,“India has suffered weather related turbulences for years. What is worrying is that with rising frequency of
such events, the impact is getting increasingly amplified because holistic efforts to reduce structural vulnerabilities are lacking. We believe investing in Indian agriculture’s future has become economically and politically critical.” The agency says like last year, New Delhi may be able to limit food inflation this time too. But doing that year after year will be an impossible task. The country’s farm sector must be made resilient through adequate investment and injection of 
appropriate technologies. For an estimated 833m people out of the country’s total population of over 1.2bn depend on agriculture for their livelihood. The sector has nearly 14% share of India’s GDP. 


After boom of last decade, Brazil soya planting set to be less than last year

Was the period during which the output of soya, maize and other grains in Brazil grew by more than 2% year on year, doubling in a decade, prove to be a one off, and will output stagnate from now on? asks Patrick Knight.

The past decade has been one of extraordinary success for the production and export of Brazil’s two principal grains, soya and maize. The amount of soya beans produced has increased from 54mt (million tonnes) in 2006 to almost 100mt this year, while the output of maize has risen from 42mt to almost 85mt in the same time. The amount of both types of grain used in Brazil itself has risen much more modestly, so most of the extra being produced can be exported.

But after a period during which grains prices rose steadily in response to surging demand, which encouraged farmers in Brazil to expand plantings in parts of the country further from ports than those in the south, prices have fallen sharply in the past three years. They seem unlikely to rise again any time soon, while costs, notably of transport, but also fertilizer, have increased sharply. Some overstretched farmers in the centre west are already facing financial difficulties, and some are having to reduce plantings.

Any increase in the amount of grains used in Brazil itself is explained mainly by a steady rise in the production of poultry meat, of which Brazil is now the world’s leading exporter. The steady increase in the amount of soya oil blended with mineral diesel fuel, used mainly to power Brazil’s huge fleet of trucks, is also of growing importance. Many of these trucks are used to carry grains and oilseeds long distances from fields and processing plants to the ports or railheads, as well as to a new generation of river terminals now being built.

One of the main motors for the increase, at least for soya, has been the steady increase in demand from China. China once prided itself on being self-sufficient in food, but it is now unable to produce enough to cope with the fast-growing demand for 

meat and dairy produce, and the grains needed to produce them. Large quantities of maize have only begun to be exported from Brazil in the past five years. Before then, Brazil frequently imported substantial quantities of this grain from neighbours, or

from further afield. Brazilian maize is now exported to numerous countries in the Middle East, notably Iran, as well as to several in Asia, notably Korea. For the time being at least, none goes to China, but this may well change.

The area planted to soya as a main,‘summer’ crop in the states of the centre west, notably in Mato Grosso, has grown fast in recent years. This has allowed more maize to be planted in the area as a ‘winter’ crop, sown immediately after ‘summer’
soya has been harvested. Whereas a decade ago, two-thirds of Brazil’s maize crop was grown in the summer, most of that in the south and south east, now more than half the total maize crop is grown in the centre west region in the ‘winter’, which is relatively mild there.

Even now, less than half the total area planted to soya in the summer in the centre west, is sown with maize in the winter. So in theory at least, much more maize could be grown and exported from Brazil. It probably will be if the demand exists, and costs can be held down.

Although Brazil is widely seen as one of the few countries with the potential to produce a large proportion of the huge amounts of additional grains and oilseeds which will be needed in the next few years, as the world population increases from the current seven billion or so, to close to ten billion by the mid century, this may not in fact occur, for several reasons.

Much of the huge increase in the area planted first to soya, subsequently to maize in the centre west, has been explained by changes to the way beef cattle have been raised in the region. Most of the substantial amount of extra beef produced in Brazil and exported to a growing range of countries, as beef becomes popular in many places where the red meat was previously almost unknown, has also come from herds in the centre west region. Herds have migrated from the south and centre west, making way for more profitable grains.

Until very recently, animals have grazed on newly cleared areas of native forest on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest, where few crops were grown. After a few years of this rather haphazard method of grazing, however, soils become exhausted. When this happens, most ranchers have until now preferred to move their stock to a newly cleared area of forest. Moving the cattle on to new land, has been a much lower-cost option than taking steps to increase productivity on the worn-out pastures. Much of this ‘degraded’ land has been bought cheaply by farmers wanting to plant soya in the past few years. If enough fertilizer is applied,‘degraded’ land produces good soya crops year after year. But with the price of cattle soaring and with restrictions on clearing the native forest increasing, many ranchers have begun improving the land themselves, and holding onto their stock. So the amount of degraded land available for planting crops has fallen.

It is important to remember that during the last ten years ‘boom’ in the amount of soya grown in Brazil, when the crop has virtually doubled in size, the world price of soya beans rose steadily as well. Soaring demand from China, caused mainly by the fact that tens of millions of people who used to live and work in the countryside, where they ate little and rather badly, has moved to some of the thousands of fast-growing cities each year, was the main reason. With more money to spend, urban dwellers tend to eat more and better food, notably meats and dairy produce, than those living in the country. Partly as a result of the slowing of this migration, partly because the rate of economic growth has slowed in the past couple of years, as well as because of severe financial pressures, the authorities in China have taken action aimed at slowing the record growth rate. At the same time as growth was slowing in China, growth in many countries in the developed world, notably those in Europe, but also in Japan and elsewhere, have also slowed, and with it demand for grains and meat, as well as dairy produce.

Because most farms in the centre west of Brazil are up to 2,000km from the nearest port, transport costs are far greater than in most other countries with which Brazil has to compete — notably Argentina and the United States, but also in some grain producing countries in Eastern Europe. This year, although a record 50mt of soya beans, as well as 15mt of soya meal, will be exported from Brazil, lower prices mean the soya complex will earn $7.5 billion dollars less from its exports than it did in 2014, a fall of 25% or so. While prices have been falling, costs, particularly of transport but also of fertilizer, most of it imported, have increased, again by up to 25%. This has caused many farmers to start pressing the government to make more low cost, or subsidized credit available to them. With prices and demand rising for a decade, many farmers gave priority to increasing plantings, often by renting more land and buying the machines needed to plant and harvest the crops, rather than paying their debts. Many farmers are now coming under pressure from banks and other creditors and some have started handing back some of their land. After a decade when the area planted to soya increase by more than 2% each year, less will be planted this year than last.

The situation would have been far worse for farmers in the centre west and north east, than it has been, had not the Brazilian currency fallen by up to 30% against the $US dollar, in which the world prices of soya and maize are set, in the past year. The result of the currency fall has been that although export earnings in US dollars have fallen sharply, earnings in local currency, which form the majority of farm costs, have remained steady or increased. So farmers have been protected so far.

Many of the reasons for the fall in the real are not just temporary, but structural and will persist for several years. Despite the fact that some measures have been taken to slow the fall in the value of the real, the weak real is not bad news for everybody. The weak currency means Brazilian-manufactured goods have become more competitive in export markets, which the government welcomes.

Higher earnings from the export of manufactured goods, will partly compensate for the fact that the price of most commodities, which form a large proportion of Brazil’s export earnings, have fallen sharply in the past few years.

Soya and maize as well, are grown in two distinct areas in Brazil, and different criteria apply to each of them. Until 30 years ago, the majority of both crops was grown either in the three southern states, where the first varieties of soya available at that time, were planted in Brazil, or in the adjacent the south east. With few exceptions, only one crop could be grown each year in such parts of the country, where winters are quite severe.

Soya’s first advance, which occurred during the late 1960s and accelerated during the 1970s, involved a move north into the states of central Brazil. Most land there is of the ‘savannah’ type. Soils are sandy and drain fast, and most vegetation is scrubby, as soils are poor. Varieties of soya adapted to the climate in the centre of Brazil, had been developed by agronomists, and large amounts of fertilizer are used, which has allowed soya to move north. Rainfall is concentrated in just five months in the savannah region, while rains are better distributed in both the south, and the centre west and north of Brazil, where the latest expansions in planting have occurred, and new varieties of seed suitable for the tropics, have been developed.

Huge areas of mainly scrubby forest were cleared in the savannah, an area where eight of Brazil’s 12 major river systems have their sources, and planted to growing soya.

Little attention was paid at that time to the impact clearing the forest cover might have on the rainfall pattern, or of the amount of water retained in the sandy soils.

The past three years in the south east of Brazil have seen water levels in the reservoirs used both to generate electricity and to store drinking water, fall to critical levels. Water tables have been falling, along with rainfall in the savannah itself and in neighbouring south east. This is causing great concern, as scientists worry that the change might be permanent.

Concern is growing that the change in the weather pattern may have been caused by the fact that huge areas are now exposed directly to rain and sun, rather than being shielded by their forest cover. Scientists are urging for measures to be taken to replant savannah land with trees, at the expense of crops,. in the savannah region. Much of the centre west is also savannah, and the same concerns apply there.

Consumers in many of the countries where the soya is used as animal feed have also become concerned about the threat of climate change, so to counter this, the soya crushers adopted measures aimed at ensuring that no new areas of native forest may be cut by the farmers who supply them. This has resulted
in the rate of forest clearance falling sharply in the Amazon region in recent years. But demand for timber remains unabated, both for use in Brazil itself and for export and the measures aimed a limiting forest clearances are often opposed by farmers and ranchers, as well as loggers.