The latest ten-year agricultural outlook by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) explains that international grain prices have declined from their recent historical highs in response to large crops in 2013/14.  Prices are expected to decline for another year or two before settling above pre-2008 prices, but below recent peaks, as end-of-year carryover stocks continue to rebuild.

The outlook includes trend yield increase with no smaller than average crops due to weather or pest problems.  The longer the period of good yields continues the larger carryover stocks will be to buffer production shortfalls and temper prices.  The authors note that these price estimates are significantly lower than previous outlooks.  World markets have changed during the high agricultural prices of the last eight years, the question is how much.

Global wheat production will be about 12 percent higher in 2023 than in 2013, an average annual increase of 1.2 percent compare to 1.5 percent annual increases in the previous decade.  Rice production will also grow 1.2 percent per year, about half the 2.2 percent annual increases in the previous decade.  Most of that increase will come in least-developed Asian countries.  Coarse grain production (mostly corn) will increase 1.7 percent per year over the next 10 years. Coarse grain planted acreage will be up in Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine.  Coarse grains will have the largest share of world total harvested area in 2023 at 34 percent, followed by wheat at 22 percent and oilseeds at 21 percent.

Wheat will continue to be primarily a food grain with direct human consumption accounting for 68 percent of use, about unchanged from recent years.  Livestock and poultry feed will be about 20 percent of utilization.  Some wheat is also expected to be used for biofuels in developed countries.  Most of the rice will be used for human consumption in Asia where it is produced.  The exception is Africa where it is increasingly becoming a food staple and its share of annual world imports will increase from 31 percent to 38 percent.

Global coarse grain utilization will increase 2.0 percent per year, largely due to increased feed use.  Moderate increases in industrial uses in developed countries and food uses in developing countries will add to demand.  With petroleum prices at $147 in 2023, U.S. conventional ethanol production is expected to be about 17 billion gallons.

Wheat trade flows will follow recent trends with movement from developed countries to developing ones increasing by 17 percent.  The U.S. will lose 3 percentage points of market share (from 21 percent to 18 percent), while the Russian Federation gains 4 (from 10 percent to 14 percent).  Rice trade will grow 3.1 percent per year to 49.0 MMT in 2023, down from growth of 3.6 percent annually over last ten years.  The U.S. will continue to dominate coarse grain exports with 52 million metric tons (MMT) in 2023.   Argentina will have exports of 32 MMT and Brazil 24 MMT.  China is expected to increase coarse grain import by 4 percent per year from 2014 to 2023, with most of that for feed use, as the self-sufficiency policy continues for wheat and rice.

Prices in the oilseed complex are expected to decline from their peak, but stay at a relatively higher plateau than grain prices.  Real prices will be 30-45 percent higher than 2005 real prices in response to growing demand.  World oilseed production will grow by 26 percent in the coming decade (2.6 percent per year) with an 11 percent increase in area harvested and a 14 percent increase in yield.  In 2023, 91 percent of oilseed and products will come from the Americas and China will continue to be the leading importer, crushing about 25 percent of the world’s total oilseeds, 81.5 MMT in 2023.

In the later years, palm oil production will stabilize at about 36 percent of the world vegetable oil production.  With petroleum prices at $147 per barrel, government policies are likely to favor biodiesel production which will account for 14 percent of vegetable oil use by 2023.  Strong demand for vegetable oil is expected to drive crush margins.   Protein meal use in livestock and poultry feed is expected to grow more slowly as livestock and poultry production increases at a slower rate and growth in the share of protein meals in rations decreases.

Nominal meat prices are expected to remain high over the next ten years.  Feed prices will decline from recent levels, but remain elevated and other costs will remain high.  Pacific beef prices are at historic highs and are expected to move to $4,800 per metric ton (MT) by 2016, before increasing supplies push prices lower. Pork prices will be near $2,000 per MT, while poultry meat prices follow feed costs higher to $1,550 per MT in 2023.  Meat prices in real terms have peaked or will in the near term.

Global meat production is expected to increase 1.6 percent per year for the next ten years after rising 2.3 percent per year for the previous ten years.  Poultry meat will be the largest meat sector by 2020, accounting for almost half of the total increase in meat production by 2023.  China will have the largest increase in overall meat production over the decade at 15.3 MMT.  Meat trade will increase more slowly than the last decade and account for 10.6 percent of production.  Asia will be the largest growth market for all types of meat.

Real dairy product prices will decline slightly over the coming ten years, but be substantially higher than prices prior to 2007.  Increasing incomes and globalization of diets will raise demand for milk and dairy products in developing countries.  Most of that new demand will be met with domestic production, but increases in trade will support world dairy product prices.

The great unknown is how much the higher income and globalization of diets that drives demand for dairy products will also affect demand for cereals, vegetable oils and meat.  Cereals and protein meals appear to have some excess production capacity to be used if needed for livestock and poultry feed, but vegetables oils supplies are already tight.  The authors note several times that environmental constraints may limit livestock and poultry production.  That includes China which is already expected to increase meat production.

This analysis uses a conservative set of consumer demand estimates, but they depend on assumptions that include some unknowable numbers.  Markets will respond in real time to consumer demands and make production adjustments as demand grows.

Ross Korves is a Trade and Economic Policy Analyst with Truth About Trade &Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org). Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter |Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.