Sinking food prices, while good for the consumer, is devastating for almost everyone else in the supply chain from the farmer all the way to the grocers. Farmers suffer as their key input cost, labor, is actually increasing in many states from the rash of minimum wage hikes around the country while fuel seems to move wildly with any number of daily rumors about production freezes in the middle east. Meanwhile, grocers suffer as already thin margins get compressed even further as existing inventories get marked down.
Food prices have come under extreme pressure in 2016 due primarily to lower Chinese consumption resulting from a weak Chinese economy and a strong U.S. dollar. This slack in demand has resulted in massive supply gluts for several commodities as producers failed to adjust supply quickly enough to meet new levels of demand. In fact, the USDA recently provided a $20mm "bailout" to cheese producers and reports have surfaced that milk producers have been dumping excess milk on fields.
With the base inputs of corn, wheat and soybeans all tanking, food deflation has been pervasive with almost every commodity down substantially YoY.
Proteins, which represent nearly 20% of the typical consumer's shopping basket, are trending flat to down 8% so far in 2016.
Farmers are among the hardest hit when food prices decline. In fact, we recently wrote about how sinking ag commodity prices in the Midwest were resulting in substantial declines in ag land prices and farmer incomes which then translate into an increase in farmer credit defaults (see "Farmland Bubble Bursts As Ag Credit Conditions Crumble"). Within that post we noted that farmland prices in Chicago's 7th District (IL, IN, IA, MI, WI) declined in 2014 and 2015 after only dropping in 4 other years since 1965.
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