Bank the gains, budget conservatively

February 4, 2011

When was the last time prices for lamb, wool, beef, milk and grain were all reasonable at the same time?

I can’t remember.

In the last decade or two if returns for one product was up the rest were usually down.

But this year, in spite of the high dollar, all commodities are receiving better prices.

Even Federated Farmers , is chirpy:

While appreciating commodity prices will be positive for the New Zealand economy, it is only part of the cost equation for goods for all farmers, whether you’re producing cheese or lamb.

“Global commodity prices are up. Whole Milk Powder (WMP) prices have doubled in the last 12 months, and butter is at 20 year highs because of constrained supply,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Wool and meat are also showing positive signs and the positive economic contribution of agriculture is benefiting every New Zealander, every day.

“These are sustainable prices because food is the new black. About 70 million people join the human race each year as the global population heads towards 6.9 billion.

“We are seeing strong price signals from the ANZ Commodity Price Index and from Fonterra’s GlobalDairyTrade auction yesterday.  Food is no longer a plentiful low cost good but is now starting to reflect the real cost of production and its scarcity.

Feds is warning there could be volatility ahead and advises farmers to bank the gains and budget conservatively.

If the grapevine in our area can be taken seriously, that is what most are doing. Memories of the crash from peak prices in 2006 are too fresh for anyone sensible to think what comes up can’t go down.

McKenzie also points out that higher prices are only part of the story.

“Farmers don’t get the retail shelf price. We have to meet the full cost of production and input costs are up. Last year dairy famers had on average only 70 cents profit out of the $6.10 milk price left over for debt, taxes and in dividends.

“It’s the compliance costs we have the least control over.  In the past year we’ve had increases in local authority rates, ACC levies and particularly the impact of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on fuel and electricity.

“Dairy farmers in particular have greater environmental expectations upon them and we have to be in the black to be green,” Mr McKenzie concluded.

Many of those costs are fixed ones which we face regardless of whether prices for our produce are going up or down. We must make hay while the financial sun is shining and this time it isn’t just food that is receiving better prices, fibre is too.

We got $4.80 a kilo for crossbred lambs’ wool last week, sold some more this week and received an extra 20 cents.

My farmer thinks it’s at least 20 years since wool was earning that sort of money.

That’s a very welcome turn around from the last few years when we were lucky if the price paid for wool did anything more than cover the cost of shearing it.

Timber too is finally worth more than the cost of felling the trees.

We’ve got a plantation of pines planted about 30 years ago. Any time we’ve looked at selling the timber in recent years we’ve been told the only market would be fire wood. But now the price has gone up we’re cutting them down, cover the costs of that and replanting and still have a bit left over.

As an investment over 30 years the return wouldn’t be particularly good, but the trees were planted on a steep hillside which wouldn’t have been good for much else anyway.


Power pushes up producers’ prices

August 19, 2008

The price of power was the main contributer to the increase in the Producers’ Price Index  in the three months to June, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Ouptput prices went up 3.5% and input prices rose by 5.6%.

The rise in the outputs index is the largest quarterly rise since the June 1985 quarter, while the rise in the inputs index is the largest since the March 1980 quarter. Both indexes were mainly driven by higher prices for electricity generation and supply.

One business’s output becomes another’s input, so for example milk and grain are outputs for farmers but inputs for cheese makers and bakers.The electricity generation and supply outputs index rose 30.9 percent in the latest quarter, the largest rise since the series began. Higher output prices for electricity generation were recorded, with lower lake levels pushing up spot prices. In the year to the June 2008 quarter, the electricity generation and supply index rose 41.7 percent, which is also the largest annual rise since the series began.

 

Electricity producers cover those inolved in generation, transmission, distribution and retail and their inputs include fuel, business services, rent and power itself. I’m not sure how much the healthy dividends the Government gets from the power companies it owns contributes to the price rises.

Within the inputs index, electricity generation and supply rose 50.8 percent in the latest quarter and 85.4 percent in the year to the June 2008 quarter. Both movements are the largest since the series began in the June 1994 quarter. Lower lake levels were the cause of higher costs for electricity generation this quarter.

Ouch. We pump water for irrigation which makes power one of our bigger costs.

Another contributer to the PPI indexes is the wholesale trade which covers fuel and fertiliser and they are also big budget items for farmers.

Wholesale trade also made a contribution to both the PPI output and input indexes. The wholesale trade outputs index rose 6.0 percent in the June 2008 quarter, while the inputs index rose 6.4 percent. In both cases the increase was driven by higher prices in the mineral, metal and chemical wholesaling sector.In the year to the June 2008 quarter, the PPI outputs index rose 8.5 percent and the inputs index rose 11.8 percent.

 

If these input costs, most of which have a large imported component, went up when our dollar was relatively high they will almost certainly be higher in the next quarter because the dollar has been lower.

The increase in inputs has been greater than that for outputs which means we’re absorbing some of the costs. But even so each trip to the supermarket is a reminder that some of the increases get passed on to consumers.

I couldn’t find any 1kg blocks of cheese at the supermarket today, and the 700g block of edam I did find cost $11.99. I wonder if this is because there would be consumer resistance if they tried to sell bigger blocks at that per kilo price?


Grain Price Rises Pushes Food Prices Up

July 12, 2008

Good news for producers is bad news for consumers because rising international prices for grain will push domestic food prices up again.

Bread prices are predicted to rise 10c a loaf and pork and bacon prices $2 to $3 a kg.

Food producers face new grain contracts – $100 a tonne, or 30%, higher than last year.

Farmers say contracts for next season’s harvest, which are about to be signed, reflected those higher prices.

Pig and poultry producers say price rises are inevitable to cover higher feed costs.

Foodstuffs (South Island) chief executive Steve Anderson agrees, and warns costs will continue to increase across the board.

He could not quantify the size of any increase, saying that was up to suppliers, but he doubted there would be any price correction in the immediate future.

“We’re not planning on seeing a reduction in commodity prices in general.”

The price for meat and wool is also driven by the price of grain and that in turn is driven by the price of energy. The combined shortage of food and high fuel prices will push the price of all food up.

Grain prices were so volatile, milling wheat growers were not signing contracts at $500 a tonne, claiming the price was still $100 a tonne below the international price and higher-yielding feed wheat.

“It is a rising market. On a falling market, everyone would be signing,” Federated Farmers grains council chairman Ian Morten said.

Demand from dairy farmers had also driven up cereal prices. Growers have been encouraged to plant higher-yielding feed varieties instead of milling wheat, which gave them leverage against the mills.

Grain growers had this year resumed exporting to take advantage of higher international spot prices, something they had not done for many years, which reduced the availability of domestically-grown cereals.

On top of this is the competition for land from the misguided policy which changes land use from producing food for people to the production of fuel for vehicles.

Farmers and food producers also blamed Solid Energy for higher prices, as it has contracted 5000ha of predominantly cropping land to grow oilseed rape for biodiesel production this year.

Solid Energy plans to increase that production to between 20,000ha and 25,000ha within three years.

Mainland Poultry chief executive Michael Guthrie said international issues had driven grain prices up 80% for his egg business in the past 18 months.

Drought in Australia had decimated world grain production; there had been floods and biofuel production in the United States; growing demand for grain from China and India; low world grain stocks; and dairying had taken over cropping land in New Zealand.

Mr Guthrie said egg prices had been stable for the past two years. He expected prices to rise, but could not say by how much.

Pork Industry Board chairman Chris Trengrove said New Zealand was six months behind the rest of the world on feeling the impact of higher grain prices.

Pork and bacon prices would need to increase about $1 a kg to the farmer to cover rising costs, which translated to between $2 to $3 a kg to the consumer.

Production and transport costs are also rising for fruit and vegetables and that too will impact on retail prices.

Repeated competition from rabbits persuaded me to abandon my vegetable garden but now it has been securely fenced this seems like a good time to get it ready for spring planting.


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