Thursday, December 27, 2007

The End of Cheap Food- What was Old is New Again AND: Profiting from Politics

This story from The Economist got me thinking
(I know, alert the media).

Rising food prices are a threat to many;
they also present the world with an enormous opportunity

FOR as long as most people can remember, food has been getting cheaper and farming has been in decline. In 1974-2005 food prices on world markets fell by three-quarters in real terms. Food today is so cheap that the West is battling gluttony even as it scrapes piles of half-eaten leftovers into the bin.

That is why this year's price rise has been so extraordinary. Since the spring, wheat prices have doubled and almost every crop under the sun—maize, milk, oilseeds, you name it—is at or near a peak in nominal terms. The Economist's food-price index is higher today than at any time since it was created in 1845 (see chart). Even in real terms, prices have jumped by 75% since 2005. No doubt farmers will meet higher prices with investment and more production, but dearer food is likely to persist for years (see article). That is because “agflation” is underpinned by long-running changes in diet that accompany the growing wealth of emerging economies—the Chinese consumer who ate 20kg (44lb) of meat in 1985 will scoff over 50kg of the stuff this year. That in turn pushes up demand for grain: it takes 8kg of grain to produce one of beef....

And what was I thinking about?
Farm implements!

The Economist's food-price index was created in 1845.
In 1846 The British Parliament voted to repeal the Corn (grain) Laws, reducing the tariff on imported grain, effectively opening the British market to American wheat.

Our post "Global Warming, Politics, Laws and Opportunity" had this list of annual sales of Mr. McCormick's reaper:

1840------- 2
1843------ 29
1844------ 50
1845------ 58
1846------ 75

As can be seen, the politics had quite an effect on the McCormick family fortunes.

In Global Warming, Politics, Laws and Opportunity--Part II:

As reported by The Economist May 16, 1846, the British House of Commons had repealed the "Corn Laws", eliminating the tariff on imported wheat, the day before. Corn in this usage is not maize but rather is generic for grain. Prime Minister Peel won the battle but lost his premiership, the quote of the day was "Peel and repeal."

Click that Economist link. I'll wait.

May 16, 1846 "Corn Laws Repealed by the House of Commons"
The bill was ushered through the Lords by the Duke of Wellington, Peel lost his job and the era of cheap food began. It lasted 160 years.

The Economist reported both ends of the story.
Not many publications can say that.

Wikipedia has this last bit:
The Economist
was founded in September 1843 by James Wilson with help from the Anti-Corn Law League; his son-in-law Walter Bagehot later became the editor of this newspaper.