Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

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07 August 2010

Asian Droughts and Grain Production and Demand

Russian Prime Minister Putin announced that exports of Russian grain have been banned from 15 August through the remainder of the year.  China has imported 1.2 million metric tons of corn this year.  The total Chinese imports of corn from all countries in prior years has been less than 100,000 metric tons a year.  Ukraine has also canceled several contracts to deliver wheat.  Widespread drought in Russia and across the northeastern corn belt of China for the last two years has reduced their supplies.  The growing middle class in China has also developed an appetite for more pork, chicken, milk, and eggs from animals fed on corn, as well as soft drinks that use corn syrup as a sweetener.  China is expected to pass Japan to become the world's second largest economy this year.  Demand for more and better food has been growing in India, Brazil, and Russia as well.

As recently as 2003, China was a large exporter of corn, when it exported 15.2 million metric tons.  One expert believes China will import 5.8 million tons of corn in 2011 and 15 million by 2015.  Russia provided 14.5% of the world's total wheat exports in 2009-2010 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.  Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, buying much of it from Russia in recent years.  Russia exported less than 1 million metric tons of wheat in 2000-2001, but increased that to 17.5 million metric tons in 2009-2010.  The top five wheat exporting nations in the year ending in June 2010 were:

U.S.                    23.6 million metric tons
European Union  21.0
Canada               18.5
Russia                 17.5
Australia              14.0

Wheat prices leaped upward in 2007 and have stayed higher.  The story is similar for corn, oats, barley, grain sorghum, and sugar beets.  Rice prices started going up somewhat earlier, but continued to be higher since 2007.  One of the factors that pushed prices higher in 2007 was the U.S. mandate that required the use of ethanol in gasoline be set at 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol.  This is scheduled to rise to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012.  Meanwhile, the EPA was supposed to rule this month whether the ethanol content in gasoline could be raised to 15%, but now says the tests on engines will not be completed until the end of September.  Should the required gasoline content of ethanol be increased to 15%, there will be a further upward pressure on corn and meat prices.  More wheat and other crops will be displaced as farmers grow more corn.

There is some reason to believe that demand can continue to be met in the grain market.  Average corn yields in the U.S. have doubled in the last 40 years to 165 bushels an acre.  David Fischhoff, V.P. of Technology Strategy and Development at Monsanto Co., thinks corn yield can become nearly 300 bushels an acre by 2030.  If we do that and end the foolish subsidies for ethanol production from corn, it will be much easier for the U.S. to develop a greater and more lucrative export market as the rest of the world eats more meat, eggs, milk, and grains.  Healthy farm product exports would help to ease us out of the recession and produce some of the jobs we have failed to produce for most of this last decade.

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