Saturday, February 2, 2008

Farmers Wonder if Boom In Grain Prices Is a Bubble

From the Wall Street Journal:

Come spring, Tim Recker plans to demolish two rotting barns and a dilapidated workshop on his 1,500-acre farm in Arlington, Iowa. In their place will sit about three acres of rich, black topsoil prime for capitalizing on the biggest global grain boom in decades.

"Every acre is more valuable than it was five years ago," says Mr. Recker, a farmer and land excavator.

With corn, wheat, soybeans, barley, sunflowers and other grains selling at or near record prices, U.S. farmers are preparing for a potentially historic planting season. A rush to make biofuels from crops and soaring demand for grains in China, India and other emerging markets have pushed up grain prices world-wide, helping drive food prices higher.

Just yesterday, Kraft Foods Inc. -- echoing similar announcements earlier in the week by Tyson Foods Inc. and Hershey Co. -- said it will raise prices this year because of higher costs, and Kellogg Co. said its fourth-quarter profit fell because of higher commodity prices.

The shift has created huge opportunities in the Farm Belt as growers make their annual decisions about which crops to plant, how much land they need, which fertilizer and pesticides to buy, and how much of their crop to sell ahead of time on futures markets.

But there are risks, too. Farmland prices have climbed more than 20% over the past year in many Midwestern states, so the many growers who lease land are shelling out higher rents. Some seed prices have jumped 30%, and fertilizer prices have doubled nearly across the board. Nocturnal thieves are stealing grains from unlocked bins. And ever looming is the prospect of a drought, which could push prices even higher, sending shock waves through global grain markets....MORE