The new US President made clear before his election that he wanted to increase America’s energy-efficiency and achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. His intentions will mean greater demand for corn, soybeans, and other edible oils - at a time when demand is already growing.
Obviously one strand of this ambitious promise depends on the development and extension of the electric plug-in network. But the electric car revolution has barely scratched the surface in the US - plug-in vehicles (including hybrids, which have both a diesel or gasoline as well as an electric motor) accounted for less than 1% of the 146m new light-duty sales in the US between 2011-19.
Since the 1973 oil embargo the US has sought to replace fossil-based transportation fuel with alternative, renewable sources, such as corn-based ethanol and biodiesel.
Given the size and intended speed of President Biden’s energy ambitions, US road transport will become increasingly dependent on ethanol and biodiesel for the immediate future. This might displease some of his supporters, who will argue that biofuels have their own negative impact on the climate and also divert food resources into fuel. But without a vigorous biofuel industry the President will fail to achieve his green ambitions.
Good news for US corn
This is good news for US farmers, who already enjoy generous federal subsidies, which for corn alone totaled a massive $116.6bn between 1995-20. About half of US corn goes into fuel ethanol production.
The Biden energy revolution will inevitably depend on ample supplies of corn (for ethanol), soybeans and canola (for biodiesel). In January the CEO of ADM anticipated a 2% year-on-year increased demand for soyoil, an extra 500m pounds this year as a result of the biodiesel expansion. The CEO of Bunge said in February there is a "structural shift" in demand for edible oils that will further tighten supplies this year. Others have forecast that by 2023 US soybean demand might outstrip supply by almost 4m tonnes a year, if just half of the planned renewable diesel capacity is built.
Tighter supply, higher prices
President Biden’s policies are not the only factors influencing demand and thus prices.
There is a constant interplay between crude oil prices - which today fell by more than 3% to $62.42 a barrel, weaker on worries that the post-Covid economic recovery might be faltering - and edible oil prices.
There is the rate at which Malaysia and Indonesia might increase their biodiesel mandates - but that they will raise them and require greater volumes of crude palm oil is a certainty. Crude palm oil futures have already notched up their longest rally in 19 years, the benchmark contract closing on the Bursa Derivatives Exchange at Ringgits 4,133 ($1,005.60) a tonne on Monday this week.
Nor can we forget the continuing vast appetite of China, which is struggling with fresh outbreaks of African Swine Fever, which may lower its soybean imports this year from the 100m tonnes taken in 2020. But China will always be a soybean importer - it can’t produce enough to satisfy its needs.
The ground is being laid in the US for a tremendous bull run in all edible oils; perhaps demand will be choked off by high prices, but maybe President Biden will aid them to even greater heights.