An analysis of the factors underlying the recent increase in food prices is provided in a Commission document: Prices
The document notes that the largest increases in agricultural prices are observed in the wheat and rice markets, where the two major causes commonly used in the press to explain the recent price increases - demand for biofuels and increased demand in China/India - have had the mallest impact. For rice and wheat, supply side factors - both in terms of unfavourable climate conditions and lower yield growth - are the main causes.
In the cases of maize and soya, however, strong demand for biofuels and increasing imports in China explain most of the price rises. The failure of wheat and rice production to respond to increased market demand is in contrast to development in the maize sector.
Slow yield growth, most notably for wheat, has been an important factor. Combined with short term weather factors, world stocks have fallen to significantly low levels, stimulating the sharp increase in prices. Maize and soybean markets have been mainly driven by a strong growth in global demand - mainly for increased meat consumption (through feed use) and to a lesser extent for biofuels use. In 2007, the Australian drought, high temperatures in central and eastern Europe, and a cold spring in Ukraine and Russia substantially reduced harvests.
The failure of agricultural output to keep pace with demand growth, the Commission says, is likely to be linked globally to lack of public research in agriculture - notably in seed improvement, as well as to the rise in production cists and the decline in farming profitability (until recently) in developed countries. Environmental legislation in some countries, particularly in Europe, is also said to be likely to be hampering production increases.