Monday, 20 January 2014

World Commodity Markets Are Strong

With farming becoming ever more reliant on world markets, farmers will be interested to learn that several organisations have reported that world commodity markets are strong and are expected to remain so for some years to come.

First, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has recently published its latest monthly Food Price Index which showed that overall 2013 produced the third highest figure on record, almost equal to 2012 but about approaching 9% off the previous highest figure for 2011. The index is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of five food commodities, being cereals, sugar, oil, meat and dairy.

However, the total figure hides the fact that there was significant variation in the performance of the various commodities with dairy and meat reaching all time highs for the year while cereals were down by about 7% on the value for 2012 and oils index reached a four year low. These figures have been reflected in the fortunes of our farmers at home where dairy farmers in particular have seen milk prices rise sharply in the last year.

The second piece of encouraging news comes from the EU, where the Commission has published its annual report which attempts to model commodity prices in the medium term – in this instance over the next ten years. Such predictions have to be taken with a pinch of salt in that they are produced by computer generated models but even so the expectation is that commodity prices will remain firm.

But, it has to be remembered high prices do not always translate in to high profits and farmers must ensure they keep a careful eye on costs in particular because letting costs run away will eat in to profits. Further, there will always be price volatility and taking advantage of the highs and not getting caught out by the lows in commodity markets will be important. This is particularly relevant for arable farmers where crops can be stored and sold at different times of the year or even sold on “futures” markets while dairy farmers for example have to take whatever price is on offer at that time because liquid milk is perishable and cannot be stored.

Thus, compared to the lows of the late 1990s and early 2000s it seems farmers can look forward to the next few years with optimism but as we have seen in recent years, many external factors such as the weather can have a significant effect on an individual farmer’s fortunes. Therefore although the future looks reasonably bright no one can complacent and as ever it will the best run businesses which will thrive.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

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