What Ukraine’s declining grain production means for global food trade

An aerial view of the Turkish-flagged ship “Polarnet” carrying grain from Ukraine is seen on the Derince Port, Kocaeli, Turkiye on August 08, 2022. 

Omer Faruk Cebeci | Anadolu Company | Getty Pictures

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is inflicting a worldwide shift within the buying and selling of grains — which feed billions of individuals each day — and Ukraine’s harvest this yr might plummet by as a lot as 50% in comparison with earlier than the conflict.

Each Ukraine and Russia have been among the many world’s high producers of commodities akin to wheat and barley earlier than the conflict broke out in February 2022. However the battle noticed the worth of U.S. wheat and corn futures hit decade highs (with one benchmark wheat contract hitting an all-time excessive) and sparked volatility in world wheat costs all year long. Costs stabilized in 2023, dropping round 13% within the yr thus far.

“Commerce flows change and fluctuate, they at all times have,” mentioned Andrew Whitelaw, co-founder and director of Episode 3, an agricultural evaluation agency. “Allowing for that 20-odd years in the past, Russia wasn’t an essential exporter of grains … It is grown within the final 20 years [and] Ukraine and Russia have now grow to be the highest exporters.”

And whereas final yr’s yield and export of grains akin to wheat from Ukraine have been nonetheless important regardless of the conflict and closure of ports within the Black Sea, the portions harvested and shipped this yr are more likely to cut back.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered by the U.N. in Turkey to information ships safely out of Ukrainian ports, was solely prolonged by 60 days in March — a discount on the earlier 120-day interval.

Whitelaw described final yr’s wheat crop as “fairly good” in Ukraine and “completely incredible” in Russia, however mentioned Ukraine’s harvest is more likely to be down round 20% in 2023 as a result of farmers have sown fewer crops.

“This yr, there’s issues like — in Ukraine — lack of entry to finance, lack of entry to fertilizers, gasoline, labor, but additionally the worth of grain in Ukraine is basically low. So, the inducement for the farmers to plant it’s decrease,” he instructed CNBC through telephone.

“We’re seeing decrease acreages or space devoted to those crops in Ukraine, which implies that most likely the bigger affect of it could be felt this yr, from a provide and demand fundamentals [perspective] than final yr.”

The Ukraine losses will have to be made up elsewhere over time, together with from Russia itself however with a stronger concentrate on US, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina.

Aakash Doshi

Citi Analysis

Certainly, figures from the U.N. Meals and Agriculture Group recommend that 20-30% of the acreage of winter wheat crops sown in Ukraine final yr is not going to be harvested this summer season due to an absence of gasoline availability.

Aakash Doshi, who’s head of commodities, North America at Citi Analysis, mentioned that Ukrainian grain harvests and exports this yr could possibly be down as a lot as 50% on pre-war ranges.

Ukraine had a bumper corn crop of 42 million metric tons (mmt) in 2021, per Citi Analysis figures, and the financial institution estimates this can cut back to between 21 and 22 mmt in 2023/24.

For wheat, the 2021 harvest was 33mt, in line with Citi Analysis, and its forecast for this yr “is likely to be 16-17mmt,” Doshi instructed CNBC by e mail.

In addition to crop yields, exports can even cut back, he mentioned. “Grain commerce flows from Ukraine ought to see volumes decline, however not as a lot as outright manufacturing declines, since home consumption is weak. 2023/24 Ukraine grains exports (corn + wheat) is likely to be 27-30mmt, down 15-18mmt from 2021/22,” he added.

A Polish farmer throughout an April 12, 2022 protest in opposition to Ukrainian grain imports, which have lowered costs for crops in Poland.

Attila Husejnow | Sopa Pictures | Lightrocket | Getty Pictures

There’s a present surplus of Ukrainian grain in Central European nations, making a rift with nations together with Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Slovakia.

Falling costs triggered protests amongst Polish farmers in addition to the resignation of Poland’s Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk this month. On April 7, his successor Robert Telus mentioned exports of grain from Ukraine to Poland could be restricted and halted “for now,” in line with a Reuters report.

Long term, Doshi sees alternatives for grain exports from North and South America to the Center East, North Africa and Asia, and if crops are good, from Australia to East Asia.

“In different phrases, the Ukraine losses will have to be made up elsewhere over time, together with from Russia itself however with a stronger concentrate on U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina exportable surplus,” Doshi mentioned.

Agricultural analyst Whitelaw additionally mentioned the market is more likely to shift, together with from Russia. “The commerce flows must change and there is not that many locations you can get giant volumes of grain to interchange the volumes that Russia has been [providing]. And so, it truly is all the way down to … South American nations, the U.S., components of Europe and Australia,” he mentioned.

International meals commerce

The conflict in Ukraine has contributed to rising meals costs, with inflation above 5% in additional than 80% of low-income nations, in line with World Financial institution figures.

However whereas restrictions on exports from Ukraine have had an affect on meals costs, rising vitality and fertilizer prices are more likely to have a fair better impact, in line with analysis by a crew at Edinburgh College led by Peter Alexander, printed in February. The research means that there could possibly be as much as 1 million extra deaths within the Center East, sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa if excessive fertilizer costs prevail this yr.

Long term, the image is complicated. Local weather change inflicting excessive climate is already damaging the meals system, in line with Alexander, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh College’s International Academy of Agriculture and Meals Programs. However how this might develop is unclear, he instructed CNBC: “The affect of future excessive climate … drought, warmth, flooding, is basically not properly understood.”

A key threat is that if grain manufacturing halts in numerous locations without delay, Alexander added, referred to as “a number of breadbasket failure.”

“There’s undoubtedly the likelihood that we might see that sort of occasion sooner or later, which might have actually adverse penalties for many individuals,” he added.

In late February, British supermarkets restricted buyer purchases of sure contemporary fruit and veggies because of shortages.

Matthew Horwood | Getty Pictures Information | Getty Pictures

Components affecting the worth and availability of commodities and meals general are many and diverse — dangerous climate in Morocco and Spain was blamed for a scarcity of fruit and greens within the U.Ok. in February, however extra paperwork because of Brexit was additionally cited, plus excessive vitality costs.

Methods to forestall meals shortages all over the world are additionally not simple, with many “competing narratives,” in line with Alexander. For instance, localizing meals chains could not assist.

“The rationale why we’ve got a globalized meals system, and the rationale why meals has grow to be cheaper and cheaper during the last a long time, is as a result of … aggressive benefit [means] we produce meals the place it is the simplest to supply it, the place it has the bottom inputs … If we begin bringing every little thing again extra regionally, it really is much less environment friendly as a meals system,” he mentioned.

“For instance, within the U.Ok., we’re self-sufficient in wheat, however we’re nonetheless topic to the worldwide marketplace for wheat costs,” he added.

Additionally, greater meals costs aren’t essentially a foul factor, in line with Alexander. “Quite than attempt to preserve artificially low meals costs, or meals costs that do not replicate all the prices … perhaps we are able to make the more healthy, extra sustainable meals, we are able to subsidize them for everyone,” he instructed.

Lowering meat consumption in developed nations may additionally be an choice. “We want a extra equitable and extra environment friendly meals system, which does very doubtless contain dietary change from a Western perspective,” Alexander added.

One other debate is over how a lot grain needs to be used for biofuels versus meals provides. In biofuel, grain is used to supply ethanol, which is mixed with gasoline to chop down emissions.

Lowering the grain used to supply ethanol by 50% within the U.S. and Europe “would compensate for all of the misplaced exports of Ukrainian wheat, corn, barley and rye,” in line with the analysis firm World Assets Institute in a submit printed on April 1 2022, about 5 weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“We nonetheless have giant quantities of grain all over the world that isn’t used for meals … in our industrial processes, ethanol, biodiesel, these kinds of merchandise. I anticipate we’ll see extra of that debate within the coming couple of years,” Whitelaw mentioned.

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