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A Drought in Australia, a Global Shortage of Rice

Keith Bradsher, New York Times
Lindsay Renwick, the mayor of this dusty southern Australian town, remembers the constant whir of the rice mill. “It was our little heartbeat out there, tickety-tick-tickety,” he said, imitating the giant fans that dried the rice, “and now it has stopped.”

The Deniliquin mill, the largest rice mill in the Southern Hemisphere, once processed enough grain to meet the needs of 20 million people around the world. But six long years of drought have taken a toll, reducing Australia’s rice crop by 98 percent and leading to the mothballing of the mill last December.

Ten thousand miles separate the mill’s hushed rows of oversized silos and sheds – beige, gray and now empty – from the riotous streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but a widening global crisis unites them.

The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months …
(17 April 2008)
From Australia: Food riots not our fault – farmers:

Local officials have been baffled by allegations in the New York Times this week that Australia’s rice industry – which produces only about 2 per cent of the global supply – is to blame for worldwide food shortages. …

A spokesman for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) said Australia’s rice exports – which measured just 602,000 tonnes in 2000-01 financial year – “don’t have a lot of weight” when compared to the 30 million tonnes of rice traded globally each year.

Potash the new crude

Cassandra Kyle, The StarPhoenix (Canada)
Saskatchewan potash is the new crude oil, according to one market analyst monitoring the historic rise in value of the plant nutrient.

On Wednesday, the same day crude reached a record high, shares in potash companies spiked based on news the largest distributor of fertilizer products in China — Sinofert Holdings Ltd. — has agreed to pay $400 US more per tonne of Saskatchewan potash this year than in 2007.

But nothing is pushing potash prices higher than farmers working to meet world food and fuel demand, said Denita Stann, PotashCorp’s director of investor relations. Speaking from the company’s Northbrook, Ill., office, Stann said global tastes are turning to protein-rich diets.

… “The volumes, I think, reflect the fact that there’s tremendous pressure on potash globally. It’s a very tight market and it really all comes back to the intense pressure on food production around the world,” Stann explained. “Farmers are trying to bring their yields up and really, fertilizer is a critical part of that.”
(17 April 2008)

Sulphur: From waste byproduct to billion-dollar commodity

Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun
Commodity markets are so hot these days that even yellow is translating into green. Chemical market researchers are reporting an unprecedented spike in the price of sulphur, the most visible commodity on the Metro Vancouver waterfront and until about a year ago, an uninspired laggard in the ongoing global price boom for metals and minerals.

In March 2007, a tonne of pure sulphur shipped from North Vancouver or Port Moody would have cost you less than $50 US.

This month, it’s about $650 for the same volume — a 13-fold increase in just 13 months — and one chemical market analyst who spoke this week with The Sun is suggesting that another major spike is on the way.

That means sulphur, one of biggest Canadian exports by volume each year through the Vancouver port, is moving neck and neck with potash as the star performer among Canadian commodities.

Both potash and sulphur are chasing the same market — they’re principally used in the making of fertilizer, which is emerging as a cash cow for manufacturers in a global scramble to produce enough food for a bigger, hungrier world.
(18 April 2008)