Monday, July 23, 2012

Dairy farmers under pressure

The recent cuts in farm gate prices for milk have placed dairy farmers under real pressure and there is no doubt that many of them are not covering the cost of production. Blockades and evident consumer sympathy have stirred many supermarkets to increase the price they pay for liquid milk.

However, that is only part of the story. Half of all milk produced goes for manufacturing and that has always attracted a lower price (although the old Milk Marketing Board had a complicated system that varied the price according to the end use of the milk so more was paid if it was used for chocolate crumb than cheddar cheese).

Manufacturing prices are driven by global markets which are in turn affected by low cost mega dairies in California and elsewhere. There is hope that prices may firm up after the seasonal production peak in Europe. Prices in June were firmer for some products, particularly butter and cream, but average dairy commodity prices fell back by 5.9 per cent at Fonterra's latest Global Dairy Trade auction earlier this month, largely as a resut of increased supply. Prices may well remain stagnant until September.

Factors to take into account include whether product stocks will be sold before the next flush of milk begins in the southern hemisphere where countries including New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay are efficient producers. The emerging economy growth rate is also an important consideration as it drives greater consumption of dairy products. The recession in Europe also has an impact and British deliveries in the two weeks to the end of June were down 2.1 per cent on the same period last year.

It is also worth bearing in mind that farmers are encountering these financial difficulties despite substantial EU subsidies.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The challenge of feeding the world

The urgent need to increase farm production in order to feed a growing global population was a recurring theme last week with a number of reports and opinions published on the subject.

The words ‘productivity’ and ‘sustainability’ were the key elements of the latest Agricultural Outlook report from the OECD and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), covering the years 2012-2021. The UN predicts that the population of the world will increase by around a third from current levels, which will mean farm production will need to increase by 60 per cent over the next 40 years.

This translates into an additional one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of meat a year by 2050 compared to 2005-2007 levels. In order to achieve this level, the report suggests a number of ways that this can be achieved, particularly in developing countries, including supplemental irrigation, improving storage and transport links and the more efficient use of nutrients.

Whether or not this level of production can be reached is another matter and one that many analysts feel is not possible without a considerable overhaul of agricultural policy, the rapid introduction of new technology and in a way that meets the rather loose term of ‘sustainable’ or the contested term 'sustainable intensfication'.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not so sweet

In article in this week’s Agra Europe, European Commission spokesperson Roger Waite has denied that sugar refiners in the EU market are being treated unfairly and claims that persistently high world market prices are to blame for supply difficulties.

The spokesperson for agriculture and rural development argues that the different mechanisms created by the Commission to release additional product to supply the internal market – the release of out-of-quota beet sugar and the reduced-duty tenders to source imported cane sugar – are not discriminatory, but are “two different systems suited to two different realities”.

Waite was responding to an Agra Europe article written in May by Gerald Mason of sugar refiners Tate & Lyle which was highly critical of the Commission’s management of the sugar market.

Waite concedes that the loss of exclusive rights to imported cane for refining after the 2006 reforms has created some difficulties for the former ‘traditional’ refiners. But he notes that these companies received EU restructuring aid totalling €150 million in the aftermath of the reforms.

In addition, the article reiterates the EU executive’s determination to liberalise the internal EU sugar market by abolishing production quotas from 2015. This will be welcome news for many sugar-using companies within the EU but conflicts with many MEPs from sugar-producing member states who are pushing for an extension to 2020.

The sugar lobby has always been a powerful one, but lost ground after the WTO judgement on the EU's sugar regime.