We all have a stake in what happens in China. If China relied on the rest of the world for even 20% of its grain needs, there would be an incredible strain on the world’s grain producers.
Many of the challenges China faces exist in the world at large already. Grain production per person is falling worldwide. So is cropland acreage per person. We are also approaching the limits of what fertilizers can do in terms of boosting crop yields. Plus, strong demand for biofuels – like ethanol – now competes with food demand.
By some estimates, we’ll need to produce about 136 million tons of grain in 2007 to prevent grain stocks from falling again (they fell in 2006). Yet annual increases in grain production have averaged only about 20 million tons since 2000. That gives you something of a snapshot of the hurdle in front of us.
The investment conclusion from all this seems to be that we are in a long bull market for grains. Expect the prices of corn and wheat to keep rising. Expect the price of meat to rise. It also seems that fertilizer producers, such as Agrium, should continue to do well. Other ancillary ideas also come to mind – shippers of dry goods (i.e., grains) and manufacturers of farm equipment.
The potential for another 1930s-style Dust Bowl in the United States only adds to the power and durability of these trends.