Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Coming Food Shock

I remember giving a talk a few years ago and being asked what should people invest in. My answer, as best I recall it, was the energy sector in the short term, and farm land in the long term. The latter caused some consternation, did I mean 'land with development potential perhaps'? I answered 'no': I explained I meant land with good food growing potential - because farming would very likely be the boom industry of the next few decades in the face of imminent world food supply problems.

Needless to say most people thought I was joking, crazy or a tad alarmist. Perhaps not now: as witness the fact (reported in the Financial Times but in none of the Irish media) that world wheat prices jumped 25% yesterday to a record high. Nor are just cereal prices being affect: pig meat production is expected to go into sharp decline later this year as farmers find the cost of keeping their herds prohibitively expensive.

Amazingly, the shocking rise in food prices appears not to be of concern to Irish policy makers or even the Irish media. But Irish consumers are already feeling the effect, and we can expect a great deal more of the same in the months and years ahead. All the more reason for being disgusted at protectionist strokes like the ban on Brazilian beef, which serve the purpose solely of boosting the price Irish beef farmers can charge Irish consumers.

So for those of you wondering where to invest your surplus capital, my advice is to allocate some of your portfolio to good arable Irish land, preferably near to a city. With or without the aid of protectionist policies you can expect the price of what you produce to keep going up for some time to come.

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