What on Earth Is Going On? (One Perspective From North America...)
by Martin Chidwick Red River Global, Canada
A headline article from Bloomberg News says “There is So Much Pain in Agriculture That Traders Are Leaving”... (October 18, 2017). The opening paragraph states “The success of modern farmers has become the misery of traders at the world’s biggest agriculture merchants.” Phrases like “bumper harvests sap volatility and trading opportunities”...”the market has changed”...”executives are putting more pressure on traders to deliver profits, and that is becoming harder to do”...”we are in a very dull market right now”... and the “grain giants are shrinking”...will resonate with many readers in the Agriculture world, and more especially those based in the West. “Traders are being lured toward the Black Sea” where we all see that supplies of pulses...peas , lentils, chick peas, and dry edible beans are expanding. What trader in North America hasn't inwardly moaned when hearing of yet more Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Polish and Romanian peas being shipped to the world’s largest pulses destination (and producer), India?
What trader in North America hasn’t inwardly groaned at seeing the competitive nature of Kazakhstan’s red lentils or Russia’s green lentils? What grower in North America hasn't heard...”the competition will run out (before now!), and have to come to us...in October...then November and now “in March 2018!!? The power of pulses, the success of promotion (2016 IYP), the high values, have attracted many new participants to the industry...but the traditional and new demand, has not kept pace with traditional and fresh supply....for now!?
But today’s world is more than simply looking at supply and demand aspect of pulse crops...
We human beings are being bombarded with media fuelled cultural battles highlighting an increasing world of polarization beyond the pale, populism, and at times suffocating political correctness and a corresponding erosion of tolerance. Gratifyingly the global pulses industry seems immune to this...with the source of our cultural differences being part of the reason we delight in dealing with one another. We need to cherish what we have. Meanwhile we have consumers around the world trying to make the best decisions for their diet and for the quality of their lives.
There is a push toward trying to take back some semblance of control on what they do with their lives. Spectators are voting with their feet, stadiums are emptying, less hot dogs sold...less mustard consumed, less opportunities to promote lentil snacks!!.
Movie moguls are having budgets and returns compromised as theatre goers also vote with their feet and become a no show. Less popcorn consumed. Sound silly? Social changes in behaviour are making an impact. Voices previously silent are starting to be heard. What can be trusted from big government and big businesses?
A proliferation of documentaries litter the internet. “What the Health”, “Sugar Coated”, ” Hungry for Change”, “Vegucated”, “Food Inc.”, “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead”, “Sustainable “ - all challenge our perceptions and trust of the food chain and of the value of what we eat. Others challenge our trust for pharmaceutical companies, “Man Made Epidemic” for example. Yet others question our stewardship of planet earth, and that of our natural resources. The list goes on.
In an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, Feb 2016, Timothy Garton Ash talks of the need for economists (and thereby pulse traders!), to understand why people behave as they do. See - “When economists ignore the human factor, we all pay the price”. In addition, I would argue that the influential factors of old are no longer able to dictate or predict what human behaviour will do.
To bring it home to pulses we can no longer assume any certainties. We are one negative viral comment of any nature to compromising the integrity of our industry. We are one reversal of medical analysis and opinion away from collapsing consumption. There is a shortage in France of butter. Why? Less supply because less dairy cows (remember cattle contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and the hole in the ozone layer above your head...).
Why? Because emerging markets want butter not margarine. They want French pastries, not mass produced cellophane wrapped unidentifiable substitutes. Synthetic is increasingly frowned upon. Fake and substitutes are increasingly questioned. Sustainability’s message is conveniently shelved when we humans want something! We are complex as people... and every year there is more of us on earth.
There is a move by the people to take back control of their destinies and an increase in awareness of mortality, the value of life and a respect for equality and human rights. Governments and businesses are finding less ability to dictate and ‘persuade’ the populace to do their behest...Shock... governments must work for the people and not vice versa, while big business credibility is being increasingly challenged.
If one were to take a look at the Pet food Industry in North America it would become pretty evident, very quickly, that many companies get it. They encourage interaction with customers. They invite constant input. They make staff and personnel available to consumers. They ‘personalize; (‘animalize’?), food for your pet. They listen.
Are we in the pulses industry as attentive as we should be? An unravelling of today’s lentil values and lack of pea shipments, seems to have shocked participants...Yet we knew about the New Silk Road; we knew about emerging economies; we knew that with high prices of pulses we were going to attract competition from hitherto smaller origins and we most surely knew that IYP 2016 was going to greatly elevate the industry’s profile.
Today, supply seems to have run ahead of demand (apart from perhaps, chickpeas)...and it may only be that simple. On the other had ...” What On Earth is Going On?
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