How biofuels can impact global food prices

‘Food will never be so cheap again’

Biofuel refineries in the US have set fresh records for grain use every month since May. Almost a third of the US corn harvest will be diverted into ethanol for motors this year, or 12pc of the global crop.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Telegraph [UK]
25 Oct 2009

The world’s grain stocks have dropped from four to 2.6 months cover since 2000, despite two bumper harvests in North America. China’s inventories are at a 30-year low. Asian rice stocks are near danger level.

Yet farm commodities have largely missed out on Bernanke’s reflation rally in metals, oil, and everything else. Dylan Grice from Société Générale sees “bargain basement” prices.

Wheat has crashed 70pc from early 2008. Corn has halved. The “Ags” have mostly drifted sideways over the last six months. This divergence within the commodity family is untenable, given the bio-ethanol linkage to oil.

For investors wishing to rotate out of overstretched rallies – Wall Street’s Transport index and the Russell 2000 broke down last week – this is a rare chance to buy cheap into a story that will dominate the rest of our lives.
Barack Obama has not reversed the Bush policy on biofuels, despite food riots in a string of poor countries last year and calls for a moratorium. The subsidy of 45 cents per gallon remains.

The motive is strategic. America is weaning itself off imported energy at breakneck speed. It will not again be held hostage by oil demagogues, or humiliated by states that cannot feed themselves. Those Beijing students who laughed at US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner may not enjoy the last laugh. The US is the agricultural superpower. Foes will discover why that matters…

…Strictly speaking, the world has enough land to feed everybody. The Soviet Union farmed 240m hectares in Khrushchev’s era. The same territory now farms 207m hectares. Troika says crop yields could be doubled in Russia, and tripled in the Ukraine using modern know-how. Africa’s farms could come alive with land registers, allowing villagers to use property as collateral for credit…

The article continues at the Telegraph.co.uk

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