Agriculture is Not a Guaranteed Investment Sector. Plus, More Agriculture News This Week.


Winter field. Larimer County Colorado. Yesterday.

Below, is a selection of recent agriculture-related news.

There has been such a frenzy of investors seeking to invest in all things farming-related in the past decade, some of them simply puppy-dog followers of Jim Rogers. I think that anyone who has operated a farm or knows the business has questioned and even resented this movement and one of the idiocies has been using “we will have to feed nine billion people by the 2050″ as the sure-thing logic. I’ve written plenty on how farmland values and returns are related to policy (including Bernanke-policy), not just population numbers; what we have had going on in agriculture for decades is overproduction and not an inability to provide enough food for people; and that farming involves multiple risks similar to gambling in Vegas. So, I try not to be too repetitive on this site, and have not spoken of these things much recently, but this article from Financial Times (“Investors Wary of Going Back to the Land”) is a good one looking back a few years on some of the lessons learned about investing in agriculture.

Jerald Schnoor, an Iowa engineering professor is worried that the increased use of water for making ethanol is threatening Iowa’s aquifers. He is calling for an end to biofuels to preserve our aquifers. “One corn ethanol processing facility in Iowa uses 200 million gallons of water per year in this state where about 75 percent of the corn grown goes towards making ethanol.” On a related note, National Geographic published an article about water use in energy, and one of the biggest reasons it is projected to double in 25 years is because of water required for biofuels production.

This Arizona article discusses the state’s water use in farming and how climate change might affect growing crops there.

Meet the new normal in U.S. corn and soybean farming. Farmers will use the John Deere 600-horsepower tractor which costs $500,000; and the Claas 465-horsepower combine which costs $560,000.

Biofuels policies are about economics, don’t let any of the other lobbyist’s lines fool you. This quote by Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad says it all:

“Having been Governor during the farm crisis of the 80’s, I know the difference between a strong, renewable fuels industry, and when we didn’t have it. We don’t want to go back to those bad old days.”

The ever elusive product, cellulosic ethanol, looks to be defined today as using the rest of the corn plant, or so it seems, from observing the newest projects on the books. We could see this coming and it’s not surprising for a number of reasons, like easy access to the feedstock.

EIA: Use of E15 was extremely small during 2012; only eight fueling stations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa were selling it by the end of the year. (The industry is pinning its hopes upon increased use of E15 in the future.)

The latest on a proposed nitrogen fertilizer plant here in the U.S. has taken an unusual twist and turn:

Indiana officials are withholding state backing for a Posey County fertilizer plant over concerns about whether its Pakistan-based owners are doing enough at its overseas operations to keep the potentially explosive material from being used against U.S. troops. The Indiana Finance Authority issued $1.3 billion in bonds in December for a nitrogen fertilizer plant that Midwest Fertilizer Corp. wants to build at the Port of Mount Vernon, in the southwest of the state. Midwest Fertilizer is owned by the Fatima Group, a company based in Lahore, Pakistan, that already manufactures fertilizer in the south Asian country.

The WSJ tells us that avocado growers in the San Diego area of California are replacing trees with vineyards and other water saving crops. The cost of the water to grow the avocados was just too expensive, and consequently, avocado acreage has fallen rapidly over a decade.

Hay supplies are at their lowest since 1957.

UK sheep farmers are losing money because of rock bottom prices and many are near to fold, although the price of lamb at the supermarket remains priced very high. What gives?

A few days ago, I covered the rising input costs for U.S. Midwestern farmers, and this article describes the more dire situation for UK farmers. Here’s a great quote:

The National Farmers Union described the Defra data as a “wake-up call for us all”, saying that they “shatter the myth that high commodity prices would mean high profits.”

In Germany, ethanol production increased by 7.4 percent in 2012, mostly by increased production from sugar beets, up 54 percent.

The U.S. textile industry has been looking brighter and has turned around in the past four years.

Iraq, a good wheat producer, is facing multiple challenges in motivating farmers these days and the area being farmed is shrinking.

The WSJ interviewed Monsanto’s CEO, Hugh Grant, on the safety of GMO’s, Prop 37, and weed resistance.

A Pennsylvania organic farmer paints a dismal picture of his fiscal situation.

Golden rice which has been genetically engineered to prevent blindness in children (because it contains vitamin A) is soon to be used in the Phillipines, and other nations. This has been a long hurdle.

Ohio engineers are working on a refrigerator for small farmers in India to help reduce their food waste. They’ve come up with a solar powered unit which uses a compressor like that used in vending machines. Now, if they can just get the cost down to something affordable.

I recommend watching this 13-minute ABC news video which shows how much damage recent fires did to the farming sector in Tasmania and includes interviews of some of the farmers who were affected.

The number of organic farms in Hong Kong is growing because of a consumer desire to trust the food source. (includes a 3-minute video worth watching)

The Perennial Plate team is in India and this is a great 5-minute video of the food scene there.

Last, but not least, see the 2-minute “God Made a farmer” commercial that was such a hit during the superbowl. It subtly advertised the Dodge Ram Pickup, was narrated by someone who’s dead, and used previously seen photographic images of desolate and lonely farmscapes.

BONUS: This piece is about urban planning and the hope of ending city love affairs with cars in this century. “Why do architects hate people so much?” … learn what went wrong and create a “new paradigm for the 21st century.” … Shifting gears may actually mean a return to the old ways.

Written and compiled by K. McDonald.

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