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Global Grain Geneva diary - day two

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Sustainability has spelled the end of the grain trader.

 

In title, at least, says Dan Basse, chief executive at AgResource, who told the conference that “nobody wants to be called a trader any more.

 

“You are all supply chain managers out there.”

 

There was one (Swiss-based, UK educated) member of the audience who Mr Basse said might still be called a trader, but Agrimoney will for the sake of sustaining harmony withhold his name.

 

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We are about to get some clarity on one of the bigger questions in agriculture – how big really is China’s corn production.

 

Getting an accurate number on the harvest, the world’s second biggest (it is believed), has been a longstanding challenge, for the country’s own statisticians, let alone foreign investors.

 

The country’s statistics bureau last year, factoring in results of a census, revised its estimate for 2017 corn output by 43m tonnes, or 20% to 215.9m tonnes, with previous harvests upgraded too.

 

The planted area estimate was lifted by 6.9m hectares to 42.4m hectares, adding an area nearly as large as Ireland.

 

Different space

However, the void in knowledge over Chinese crops might be about to be filled, from space.

 

Satellite technology which has been tested on gauging soybean area in Brazil is now being focused further east.

 

This technology and its ilk claims 3-8% accuracy on harvest estimates, by the way, 1.5-2 months prior to harvest.

 

‘Good question’

“What we are doing now is taking the same methods used in South America and using them in China,” said Dr Inbal Becker-Reshef, co-director of the Center for Global Agricultural Monitoring at University of Maryland where she leads NASA’s agriculture programme, called Harvest.

 

She also works as programme scientist at Geoglam, which she represents to the Amis group backed by the likes of the G20 as well as the United Nations FAO.

 

When asked by Agrimoney which one is actually undertaking the China satellite programme, she replies that this is a “good question”.

 

Uncle Sam is watching you?

 

 

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The European Union is about to get a “green deal”, shaping environmental policy in some cases for decades.

 

But will it be a good deal?

 

Nick Major, president of feed industry group Fefac, has his doubts that agriculture will see so many benefits, flagging the extra restrictions that the European Commission is likely to place on farmers, who will need to keep up production too.

 

’The big question’

 

“It is the big question,” says Mr Major, also corporate affairs director at feed giant ForFarmers.

 

“We have an aversion to new technology” in the EU. Just take the bloc’s negative stance on genetically modified foods (which he noted that Europeans were willing to consume in medicines, if not in food).

 

Yet how were farmers going to keep up food production, besides adhering to measures designed to cut the sector’s carbon dioxide emissions “if denied the tools to do that?”

 

He highlighted, besides the commission’s expected enforcement of zero carbon strictures in 2040 or 2050, calls for a deforestation free supply chain and a “cautious approach on renewing active substances” in pesticides.

 

And will such restrictions be applied to imported foods too?

 

“It is what keeps us awake at night.”

 

That’s not exactly an enticement either for youngsters considering a career in the feed industry.

 

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