May 6, 2022
April Showers Bring May Showers
This week was marked by particularly hard work along many facets of the supply chain, including production, legislation and promotion.
- Farmers struggled to get seeds in the ground.
- Congress worked to get cash in ranchers’ wallets.
- Brands pushed to get beverages in consumers’ hands.
A Slow Start
This cold, wet spring isn’t just dragging down moods, it’s causing serious concern by holding up planting season for Midwest farmers. This, and the continued drought in the western U.S., is adding to already volatile supply issues for most agricultural products.
- The Des Moines Register explained how Iowa farmers are playing catch-up, trying to avoid yield losses from delayed planting. Axios broke down the Midwest situation, adding that this is the slowest corn planting season since 2013.
- The Farmer’s Daughter blogger Amanda Zaluckyj posted about how farmers know when to plant. Zaluckyj quoted her brother, joking, “When Mother Nature gets her act together,” but read on for the real calculus.
- Summarizing the situation out west, the Public Policy Institute of California reported on the prolonged drought’s increased food prices and reduced income in a state that employs more than 420,000 people and whose farm revenue exceeds $50 billion.
- CNBC summarized how Arizona farmers’ access to water is nearly cut off due to declining reservoir levels and dry irrigation canals.
- Further complicating weather-related matters, surging global fertilizer prices are exacerbating this difficult growing season. Bloomberg listed a range of drivers including natural gas prices, economic sanctions on Belarus (a major potash producer), summer storms in the U.S. Gulf Coast and (let’s say it together) COVID-19-related supply chain issues.
Beefs With Beef
Like many foods, meat is getting more expensive. Unlike other parts of food production, meatpackers are drawing criticism for consolidation. Congress and the Biden administration contend that the four largest meatpackers have artificially held beef prices above competitive market levels.
- At an April 27 House of Representatives hearing, agriculture committee chairman David Scott argued, “Fair and competitive markets should engender opportunities for many, and not just benefit a few at the top. We created antitrust laws for a reason, and unfortunately, we have gotten away from enforcing anticompetitive practices, and we have moved toward a system that prioritizes efficiency at all costs.”
- Food Processing captured one such anticompetitive concern brought by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb): “None of our [Nebraska Cattlemen] producer members we encouraged to testify were willing to put themselves out front for fear of possible retribution by other market participants.”
- National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Don Schiefelbein welcomed moves to increase transparency of cattle pricing.
- Tyson CEO Donnie King defended pricing practices as “straightforward market forces” (The Washington Post).
- The meatpackers’ industry group, North American Meat Institute, reiterated that there are other middlemen involved: “Packers don’t buy fed cattle from cow-calf producers; nor do packers sell beef to consumers.”
- Colorado State University Economist Stephen Koontz testified that certain regulations have “no research nor documented evidence that there is any benefit, much less a benefit similar to well‐documented costs.” (Agri-Pulse)
- In an April 26 Senate hearing, John Boozman (R-Ark.) asked: “Do we really think that creating yet another government entity is a real solution?” Boozman brought up another important concern: “This legislation also impacts the pork, poultry, and lamb industries. Yet, none of those stakeholders are testifying today.”
Today is National Beverage Day, a day that honors all things drinkable. The site “National Today” admits the day’s origins are murky, but traced some of its roots as an industry attempt to promote bottled fizzy drinks. In honor, here are a few developments in the oft-neglected “B” in “F&B.”
- Next to spiked seltzers, ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails are the next hottest trend in booze, perhaps due to more pandemic-driven in-home consumption. Food Dive profiled Thomas Ashbourne Craft Spirits, a celebrity-driven brand of RTDs associated with names like Sarah Jessica Parker and John Cena.
- Punch, a media brand “dedicated to drinks and drinking culture,” dove deep on vodka. “It’s come to stand, instead, for an inherent blandness and lack of sophistication, which is reflected upon the person ordering it.” Hey, hey – that sounds judge-y.
- Fox Business profiled “Flippy” and “Sippy,” two robot concepts Jack in the Box is testing in San Diego to flip burgers and pour soft drinks.
- Bloomberg reported that brewers like AB InBev have pulled in higher profits after raising prices.
- The Journal of Marketing analyzed the growing trend of craft products that has grown beyond beer and coffee.
Office Guy in Aisle Five
Supermarket News reported on retail chain Hy-Vee’s singular response to its workforce crunch: the Des Moines, Iowa, based chain placed newspaper ads explaining how it asked more than 500 corporate staff to shift to retail positions.
Ever wonder how organic production actually stacks up against conventional counterparts? GreenBiz writer Theresa Lieb walks through the pros and cons at a high level (with links to supporting research). Ultimately, Lieb determines that it may not be a cure-all: “Introducing some regenerative practices to large farms while continuing to rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, as the USDA and many major agricultural companies promote, may be the best we can hope for.”
After cable TV personality Tucker Carlson suggested that the government was behind a series of fires at food production facilities, rumors began to spread that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had been arrested. Farm Journal’s Tyne Morgan set out to clear Vilsack’s name: “The story is plastered with disinformation and simply not true.” Regrettably, we can confirm that food production facility fires are a weekly event.
Even Alaskans are getting in on the food delivery boom. The New York Times detailed the expansion of services like DoorDash and Grubhub to the tundra: “Depending on the destination, the weight of the food and the space available on the flight, rural Alaskans can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $30 just to get their food to the plane.”
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