Australian Governments will wake up one morning to find our farms have disappeared

 Source: Money Morning

What Australians are reduced to by government control

As the mining industry and in particular coal seam gas wells bite deeper into our world class farming areas, and governments pile more environmental laws onto our hapless farmers, South America is poised to fill the food vacuum.

Growing populations and richer diets mean the world’s farmers will need to produce a lot more food in the future. And Latin America is the perfect place to do it.

The first essential in farming is that you need the right conditions to grow crops. Latin America has these in abundance.

Take South America. It’s divided between mountains, jungle, flatlands and coastal regions. This diversity is good for farmers because – aside from extremes such as Chile’s arid Atacama Desert or the frozen southern tip of Argentina – it means that almost anything can be grown there.

To the south, the cool slopes of the Andes provide the perfect conditions for wine production. To the east of the mountains, the temperate prairie-like pampas give Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay excellent land for rearing cattle and growing grains.

Indeed, thanks to the pampas, Argentina and Brazil are two of the world’s ‘big six’ grain growers, and major livestock producers.

As you move north, towards the equator, the four seasons merge into two. This means farmers in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and northern Brazil can plant two harvests per year.

Meanwhile, countries on the west coast benefit from the warm waters of the Pacific and have strong fisheries. Chile and Peru are both in the world’s top ten fish producers.

Once you reach Central America, the tropical climate provides the perfect conditions for sugar cane, coffee and tobacco.

Latin America’s Farmers are Still in Second Gear

Of course, Latin America isn’t the only place in the world with good farming conditions. The US, Eastern Europe, and Australasia are all major food exporters that help keep more densely populated areas – ie Asia – well stocked with food. The reason Latin America stands out is its potential to crank up production.

Victor M. Villalobos of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), says that Latin America has 42% of the world’s potential for agricultural production.

That’s a rather specific number, and I don’t see how anyone could work it out so exactly, but the IICA certainly comes out with strong reasons to back its view.

Firstly, Latin America still isn’t using all of its farmland. For example, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation reckons that Brazil has the most ‘spare farmland’ in the world. The country has 350 million hectares of potential arable land, which isn’t currently being used to produce food.

In total, the World Bank estimates that about a third of the world’s spare farmland is in Latin America. Putting all that into production won’t be easy, but the region has the necessary resources to do it. Latin America also has just under a third of the world’s freshwater resources; more than any other region.

Moreover, as Villalobos notes, Latin American farmers have suffered ‘a great lag in the increase of yields’ over the last 50 years. There are some highly productive farms in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, but many of the region’s farms rely on out-dated techniques and machinery.

The problem is that Latin American countries ‘invest little in R&D in agriculture’, says the IICA. But now, thanks to the generous prices on offer, and a more investor-friendly political atmosphere, that’s changing.

Farmers realise that ‘the rise in food prices will create opportunities for exporting countries’. For example, Latin America now supplies around a third of China’s agricultural imports. China’s economy may be slowing, but its population – and therefore appetite for agricultural imports – should continue to grow.

According to the IICA ‘the sectors that will benefit most are those that produce grains, oilseeds, dairy products [and] meat’.

James McKeigue
Contributing Writer, Money Morning