Soyabean prices have soared to record highs, surpassing levels seen in the 2007-08 food crisis, as drought and heat in the US, the world’s leading producer, threaten the size of its harvest.
Benchmark soyabean futures rose as much as 3.7 per cent to $16.79½ a bushel on Monday. The price of the oilseed, which is crushed into animal feed and vegetable oil, has risen more than 50 per cent in the past seven months.
The latest jump in prices was triggered by a heatwave– with temperatures of more than 38C (100F) over the past two weeks – in the US Midwest farming belt. Combined with little rainfall, the heat may cut soyabean yields.
Late on Monday, the US Department of Agriculture downgraded the quality of the domestic soyabean crop, estimating that 40 per cent was in good to excellent condition from 45 per cent a week earlier.
The extreme weather has sent grain prices soaring, too, with corn up as much as 5.9 per cent to $7.86¾ a bushel and close to its record.
Global soyabean stocks are already low after severe drought curtailed output in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay during their recent growing season. As a continent, South America is the leading soyabean exporting region.
“The old-crop supply is very tight,” said Erin FitzPatrick, commodity analyst at Rabobank. “Now we’re looking at a new crop which is also looking very tight and shrinking by the day with the weather in the US.”
Strong demand from emerging markets, especially China, has also boosted demand as livestock farmers shift from so-called “backyard” operations to facilities feeding animals soyabeans and corn.
Analysts say consumers will need to curb demand to prevent stocks from falling further. High prices may force their hand. Soyameal, a key ingredient in chicken and pig feed, hit a fresh record high of $490 per short ton on Monday.
Since mid-June, shares of meat processors Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms have declined 8.9 per cent and 16.5 per cent, respectively, while the S&P 500 stock index has risen 0.7 per cent.
Consumers can replace soya oil with edible oils from other plants such as rapeseed and its cousin, canola. But the “ability of rapeseed and canola to compensate losses in soyabeans and products is only limited”, said Hamburg-based consultant Oil World in a report.
However, Shaun Casteel, soyabean specialist at Purdue University, said that soyabeans had a relatively long pollination period, meaning the US crop could yet improve if rain arrived.
“If rain doesn’t come back, we’re starting to go down a slippery slope in terms of yield potential,” Prof Casteel said. “But if we have two to three weeks of good moisture and good temperatures, you can make up that ground.”
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