Weekly Overview: Adverse Weather and Animal Disease Increase the Challenge of Feeding the World

ANALYSIS - Adverse weather in Argentina has hit the wheat harvest, creating a shortage of grains there and underlining the precarious nature of the global food supply. Meanwhile, pig diseases in Russia and the US only add to the challenge of feeding the growing human population.
calendar icon 21 October 2013
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World Food Day was held last week, on 16 October. Diversity of food and food production methods are crucial in the solution to under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies affecting the world’s human population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

As more grains are needed for animal feed to increase meat and protein production to feed a growing and wealthier global population, wheat is becoming a major driver in the world grain market, according to Jack Watts, senior analyst for cereals and oilseeds at the UK's Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). He was speaking at the Home Grown Cereals Authority's Grain Market Outlook Conference in London last week.

He added that there is currently more risk to the world's cereal markets and in particular, more weather risk.

Highlighting this point, in the last few days, it has been revealed that maize and wheat are in short supply in Argentina. Wheat prices are reported to be sky-rocketing and livestock farmers say there is not enough maize (corn) to go around.

The difficult corn situation has been blamed on a shortfall of up to four million tonnes between the forecast and actual harvest figures, while poor weather has hit the country's wheat crop. Prices for the new harvest, which starts in November, are at US$500 per ton for immediate delivery while in Chicago, the price is US$250 a ton.

Continuing on the theme of feed grains, a judge in Mexico has ordered the government to stop issuing permits to multinational companies for planting genetically modified (GMO) corn at an experimental or commercial scale.

Mexico banned the planting of GMOs back in 1998 but that law was modified in 2005 to allow the planting of test plots. The judge cited the risk of imminent harm to the environment as the basis for the latest decision. There are fears that the many native corn varieties in Mexico could become contaminated if GMO corn is planted. Corn is the country's main food staple.

Livestock diseases also threaten the global food supply, not least for pig meat. The last week has brought reports of more than 30 outbreaks of African Swine Fever in Russia, in both domestic pigs and wild boar across several regions. The country has also announced an outbreak of Classical Swine Fever in September in Amur oblast in the south-east of the country.

The US, meanwhile, seems to be struggling to contain Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea. Kentucky has reported its first positive result, bringing the number of affected states to 18. The total number of swine samples testing positive exceeded 2,000 at the last count and the weekly increase has been accelerating over the last month. North Carolina now holds the unfortunate privilege of being the most affected state.

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