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China’s Energy Problems Impacting Food Security Variables, as Weaker Chinese Corn Buying Unfolds

Bloomberg News reported this week that, “China’s power-hungry commodities producers are in Beijing’s firing line, but the government’s efforts to stave off a full-blown energy crisis are also fueling rallies in everything from fertilizer to silicon.

“China Power Crunch Unleashes Turmoil in Commodities Markets,” Bloomberg News (September 28, 2021).

“Production of metals from aluminum to steel has been spluttering for months as power curbs have intensified across key industrial provinces. Now factories producing high-end goods are starting to feel the pinch too, creating burgeoning risks to the nation’s economic growth.   What’s worse, the energy crunch is spreading to a sector that alarms Beijing the most: food.

The Bloomberg article stated that,

Ensuring that China’s 1.4 billion people have enough to eat is a top national priority, and yet the power shortage has forced soybean processors in northern regions to shut and sent fertilizer prices soaring.

“Some soy plants operated by Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ltd. and Wilmar International Ltd.’s Yihai Kerry unit are among those affected. So far, the impact has been cushioned by weak demand for soybean meal — used in animal feed — due to a slump in pork prices. However if plants remain halted, it could delay soybean purchases by the largest buyer and crimp U.S. exports.”

And Bloomberg writers Jasmine Ng and Alfred Cang reported this week that, “China is set for a difficult harvest season as a severe energy crunch hurts the outlook for booming production, a development that risks triggering a renewed surge in world agriculture and food prices.

“Autumn harvest in the top agricultural producer is underway just as the world’s No. 2 economy faces power shortages in industrial hubs that threaten to slow growth. Among the worst hit are northeastern provinces such as Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang — where about half of China’s corn and soybeans are grown.”

The crisis is stoking concern that China will have a tough time handling crops from corn to soy to peanuts and cotton this year after some plants were asked to suspend or cut output to conserve electricity.

Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal writers James T. Areddy and Andrew Restuccia reported this week that, “Behind-the-scenes dealings that freed a Chinese executive from U.S. prosecution removed a stumbling block between the nations and demonstrated a little-noticed pragmatic dimension to the relationship.

“The U.S. and China are at loggerheads on numerous fronts, from technology and human rights to Beijing’s territorial claims; the United Nations secretary-general this month termed the nations’ relationship as ‘completely dysfunctional.’

“Yet, a growing list of actionsincluding on climate cooperation and the granting of visas—since Joe Biden assumed the U.S. presidency indicates the two sides are willing to grab at green shoots.”

The Journal article noted that, “China also stepped up imports of American corn, barley and sorghum this year, according to the U.S. Grains Council. And China recently installed a new ambassador in Washington who has been telling visitors two-way communication is beneficial.”

A Dow Jones News article indicated this week indicated that, “‘There is some optimism in the Ag market that the recent agreement between the U.S. and China that led to Canada releasing the CFO of Huawei could lead to more export sales to the world’s largest grain importer,’ said Robert Yawger of Mizuho Securities USA.”

Also this week, Bloomberg writer Andy Hoffman reported this week that, “Crop giant Cargill Inc. says there’s still a bullish picture for most agricultural commodities, despite weaker demand from China that’s seen corn purchases collapse.

“Agri Giant Cargill Sees Bullish Signs Despite China Weakness,” by Andy Hoffman (September 29, 2021).

Wheat supplies remain tight and the outlook for palm and other vegetable oils is positive in part due to strong biofuels demand, according to Alex Sanfeliu, who runs Cargill’s World Trading Group. But short-term demand weakness in China is putting pressure on soybeans as crushing plants in parts of the nation halt or slow activity amid an energy crunch, he said.”

The Bloomberg article stated that, “China’s energy woes are crimping demand for soy amid power cuts to crushing plants and an oversupplied pig sector. That’s causing corn imports in the top commodity consumer to ‘completely’ stop and imports to collapse, he said.”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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