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Argentina's revival, EU prospects, China's future, Black Sea prices

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One of the innovations for agriculture in 2016 was Agrimoney's inaugural AgriRisk Forum, in London, which attracted delegates from around the world to hear leading commentators on topics from prospects for the Brazilian real to the role of drones in agriculture.

Here are four main takeaways from the conference.

1) Argentina's agricultural recovery

Argentina's new government has breathed fresh life into the Argentine agricultural sector, Roberto Vitton of Valoral Advisors said.

Until the government's election, while South America's agricultural industry overall has flourished thanks to Chinese investment, "Argentina seemed to miss this opportunity due to its politics".

South America is one of the few areas with both the available land, and a conducive climate, to significantly increase food production. The new administration is "putting the house in order" by floating the currency, opening up the economy and removing most export taxes on agricultural commodities.

All but soybeans have had their sizeable tariffs eliminated and this, coupled with the currency devaluation, has boosted exports and farm profitability.

Farmers have responded to this new framework with increased planting and crop rotation.

Meanwhile, companies and investors "have altered their view of the country and are reassessing their strategies", he said, quoting at more than $1.0bn investment since late 2015 in the food and agribusiness mergers and acquisitions.

Valoral Advisors expects 2017 to bring "more and larger results", Mr Vitton told the forum.

And further ahead, the Northeast and Northwest frontier regions, for which the government is spending some $16bn in infrastructure improvements, will open up around 1m hectares to agriculture, with the impact of investment being seen in timeframe of 7-10 years.

Over the next 5-10 years soybeans will increasingly compete with the other crops for land. Corn will be the "biggest winner" with Valoral's predicted production to reach 40m tonnes at the expense of soybean as it is good for crop rotation.

2) EU grains outlook

EU cereals output will bounce back in 2017-18 according to Strategie Grains President Andrée Defois.

Speaking on the 2016 harvest, she flagged that both output and quality have taken a serious hit in France, the bloc's top producing country, due to persistent rains.

Quality was also a major talking point, with Ms Defois citing at 59% the proportion of EU wheat making milling grade, down from 71% last year.

"Because of lower volumes produced, because of quality issues the result of all of this is the EU will export nearly 10m tonnes less soft wheat then last year," she said.

For 2017-18, there will be less acreage for cereals, whereas rapeseed and sugar beet areas look set increase by 240,000 and 120,000 hectares respectively due to an increase in oilseeds profitability and removal of sugar quotas. This rapid increase in sugar beet acreage is only short term as producers race to take hold of markets shares.

Grains production looks set to increase to 152.9m tonnes, but remain some way off last year's EU record of 159.4m tonnes.

3) Black Sea wheat price transparency

Andrei Agapi of S&P Global Platts spoke of the need for the introduction of a new local index to be used as a hedge, for a region particularly attuned, given its place as a major exporter, to adjustments in trade expectations.

Local traders have been wrong-footed, for instance, by increases in expectations for Indian and Indonesia demand, while to the downside, Black Sea prices are sensitive to falls when the Southern Hemisphere harvest begins, bringing fresh competitor supplies onstream.

India has played a particular role in supporting wheat prices in Ukraine, whose 11.5% protein quality matched Indian needs, and helped pull prices up in line with those of better quality grain from Russia.

Mr Agapi outlined how, currently, there is not a reliable and independent index for Black Sea wheat. Chicago futures had a correlation of 75% with Black Sea wheat price between May 2014-October 2016 and the correlation with Paris's Matif was 69%.

Yet the volumes of wheat exported from the Black Sea are "nearly twice as large as the US and nearly three times larger than EU exports".

Mr Agapi explained why the use of Russian 12.5% wheat would be a suitable reference price for all Black Sea wheat.

"Russia is the biggest player in Black Sea - 75% of observed deals by Platts have Russian origin," he said.

4) China's importance in world ag

China may not be able to accommodate fresh demand for agricultural commodities Agrimoney's John Phelan told the forum.

China has implemented one of the most successful antipoverty measures in history, as Mr Phelan noted "the largest sustained expansion by any economy in history", which has lifted 800m people out of poverty.

It has also created a sizeable middle class with different consumption habits - with consumption of fresh vegetables and unprocessed grains down whereas meats, poultry and aquatic products have grown in popularity.

The current agricultural patterns in place will not be able to deal with the surge in demand. Despite the size of China, at 0.09 hectares per person, the country has less than half the global average of arable land per person. And efforts to boost production on limited space is having "harmful effects leading to acidification, erosion, and salinisation".

Mr Phelan looked to the rise in demand for beef, veal, pork and chicken and compared China's consumption habits with that of Taiwan. If the amount consumed per head, the "consumption gap" with Taiwan was closed an extra 128m tonnes of feed would be required, just over the total wheat produced by China in 2013.

Agrimoney is in May hosting Agrimoney Live - a three-day event which will bring together the entire agribusiness supply chain, with focused and relevant content. For more details, click here

By James Arden

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