The year is ending on a high note for American soybean farmers, with prices on pace for their best monthly performance since 2016.
In the agriculture world, news of the partial U.S.-China trade deal has sparked a lot of buzz about soybeans. It turns out, wheat could actually end up being a bigger surprise winner. Speculations is mounting that China will work to fill its wheat-buying quota as part of the detente, a pledge it failed to stick to in the past. While the allotment, set by the World Trade Organization, could be filled by supplies from any country, it still means additional global demand at a time the market is tighter.
Wild weather delayed corn plantings by the most on record, a strong dollar hurt exports, the trade war with China hit demand for the corn-ethanol industry and early snow meant some growers couldn't even finish harvesting. Despite it all, the crop proved resilient. "We ended up getting more planted than we thought," said Heath Barnes, chief executive officer of Mercer Landmark, a farm cooperative in west-central Ohio. "We planted into terrible field conditions, and we thought yields would probably not be that great. It ended up being not bad."
China's imports of U.S. soybeans rose to the highest in 20 months in November after more American cargoes cleared customs ahead of the signing of a partial trade deal in January. China's inbound shipments from the U.S. surged to 2.6 million tons, the highest since March 2018, and up from about 1.1 million tons in October. China imported almost no U.S. soybeans in November last year, customs data show.
Beyond Meat Inc. is pushing further past its plant-based beef and pork into poultry, and Chief Executive Officer Ethan Brown says that product line will finally get more attention in 2020. "You'll see some exciting things from us in the poultry space in 2020," Brown said in an interview with Bloomberg TV Monday, Dec. 16, about his inclusion on this year's Bloomberg 50 list. "I can't name specific partners or developments."
Agribusiness is increasingly turning to natural and sustainable alternatives to chemicals as consumers rebuff genetically modified foods and concerns grow over Big Ag's role in climate change. At the heart of the trend are innovations that harness beneficial microorganisms in the soil, including seed-coatings of naturally occurring bacteria and fungi that can do the same work as traditional chemicals, from warding off pests to helping plants flourish, according to a global patent study by research firm GreyB Services.
Italy, the world's biggest pasta consumer, can't abandon the North American wheat used to make spaghetti and macaroni after smaller plantings and foul weather curbed output in the European Union. Exports of durum wheat by the U.S. and Canada are booming, foiling efforts by Italy to protect its farmers by adopting country-of-origin labeling rules in 2017, effectively damping imports. EU production of the wheat variety for the season that began in July fell 10% to 7.78 million tons, European Commission data show, triggering demand for North American supplies.
President Donald Trump's $28 billion farm bailout may be paying many growers more than the trade war with China has cost them. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's calculations overshot the impact of the trade conflict on American soybean prices, according to six academic studies, a conclusion that is likely to add to criticism that the bailout has generated distortions and inequalities in the farm economy.
Potato processors are rushing to buy supplies and ship them across North America in order to keep French fries on the menu after cold, wet weather damaged crops in key producers in the U.S. and Canada. Cool conditions started to hit growing regions in October, lashing potatoes with frost. Farmers in Alberta and Idaho were able to dig up some damaged crops for storage. But growers in Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota received snow and rain, forcing them to abandon some supplies in fields.
Global hunger and malnutrition are on the rise, as are temperatures and water shortages. Humanity must adapt crops to the changing climate by breeding hardier plants, but political and commercial interests continue to stymie those efforts. Sharing seeds is critical to the global food system. To develop new varieties of crops that can thrive in a warmer, wetter or drier world, researchers must screen a wide range of plant materials to find key traits, like drought- and pest-tolerance.