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Agrimoney LIVE as it happens - day three conference diary

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17:00 Money doesn't grow on trees

Talking about due diligence, or lack of, one delegate relates the tale of a forestry project, part of a $1bn+ fund, that went wrong.

There was a clue was in the name of the investment, "Heifers' swamp", as to limitations of the 4,000-hectare plot.

This became clear when, a little time on, an operative spread out a map splattered with red dots – which marked dead trees.

"What happened is that it had flooded, then frosted, which killed 75% of the trees in the first year," the delegate says.

Fortunately, the fund overall was deemed a success.

16:40 Mud run

Hold on to your dirt.

One of the themes which is not making headlines at Agrimoney LIVE, but is bubbling beneath the surface of many presentations, is that of soil – and the loss of it.

"One inch of topsoil can be lost in one season when using unsustainable practices," says Monsanto's Mac Marshall.

Farmer and land investor Gordon Ommen (see below) says that "topsoil will be a growing topic," saying that it is being lost "13-40 times faster than it is being replaced.

"Soil managed for agricultural purposes in the US has degraded, losing as much as 60% of its original organic carbon content."

At Simply Natural, which aims to be the world's largest organic tropical fruit within seven years, Lillian O'Sullivan says that it actually takes 1,000 years to generate 3cm of topsoil.

The world loses, every second, soil equivalent to 30 soccer pitches, she adds, quoting the data as UN-sourced.

Farm buyers beware. Due diligence in purchases will require a spade as well as a spreadsheet.

15:10 Half-truths worse than nothing

It was clear that Agrimoney LIVE was not going to last for too long without getting on to the subject of Donald Trump, currently the most famous US export, as he follows up a trip to the Middle East with a European visit.

It is Gordon Ommen, founder and principal of Birddog Capital and BlackForK Farms, who gets put on the spot with a question from the floor – what does the new US president mean for the country's agriculture?

Mr Trump is "negative for ags", Mr Ommen says, flagging the importance to US farming of trade, and being seen as a reliable partner for importers.

"It does not create a lot of confidence when you have some bonehead tweeting in the morning half-truths. The noise from Trump is not helpful."

Another delegate told Agrimoney that the presidential mouth was too near the presidential brain. The delegate's comments on Barack Obama, by the way, were unprintable.

12:05 Power vs showers

Have US farmers become impervious to rain?

INTL FC Stone's Rory Deverell questions the need for fears over rain delays to spring sowings, given advances in seed equipment.

"There is enough technology out there that farmers do not need too big a window to get a big area planted," he says.

"It is not like it was even 10 years ago, when equipment at the time was inadequate if there were weather setbacks."

The trend has been evident this year when despite an unusually wet spring, which he compared with 2013, US farmers pretty much managed to keep up with the average sowings pace.

The outcome is that "we do not expect area to be much more or less" than had been forecast.

"We do not see yield this year being higher, or lower, based on weather so far," Mr Deverell says – noting that even in the wet year of 2013 the result ended up "slightly above trend".

Not that Mother Nature has lost all her ability to determine harvests.

"Big yield differences tend to be caused by extreme heat, not by extreme wet."

11:05 Second mover advantage

Hats off to Zambeef?

A source says that the African meat-to-corn group has achieved wonders at its Mpongwe farms complex in Zambia.

Since sealing the acquisition in 2011, for a sum Agrimoney is told was about $20m, Zambeef has apparently driven the value of Mpongwe to a multiple of that. (Think five or six fold.)

The secret? Not all the credit goes to Zambeef. CDC, which Zambeef bought from Mpongwe from, had already sunk a stack of investment into the complex - sunk being the appropriate verb – leaving Zambeef with an asset which was relatively easy to get up to scratch.

Indeed, the story would appear to illustrate that pioneers do not always prosper, and that being a first mover is not always an advantage.

At least CDC, now a major shareholder in Zambeef, stands to benefit from the Mpongwe upside.

09:20 House as a pigsty

Just how much do Chinese love pigs (of which there are an estimated 600m in the country)?

So significantly that every time they write home, they mention a pig too,

"The Chinese character for a house is a pig with a roof over it," says David Jones, chairman of Plant Impact.

And their love of pork is an "enduring story that will underpin soybeans" in demand terms.

Somewhat mixing species, Mr Jones added he is a "bull" on China.


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