World Food Prices Enter ‘Danger Territory’ to Reach Record High

Jill Treanor, Guardian/UK
Soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in “danger territory”.

An index compiled monthly by the United Nations surpassed its previous monthly high – June 2008 – in December to reach the highest level since records began in 1990. Published by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation, the index tracks the prices of a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, and has risen for six consecutive months.

Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO economist, told the Guardian: “We are entering a danger territory.” But he stressed that the situation was not yet as bad as 2008.

Sugar and meat prices are at record levels while cereal prices are back at the levels last seen in 2008 when riots in Haiti killed four people and riots in Cameroon left 40 people dead.
(5 January 2011)

The city that grows

Monica Eng, The Chicago Tribune
Chicagoans have been tending gardens and preserving their bounty for the winter since the city started.

But in recent years, a new variety of urban agriculture has sprouted. Dusty vacant lots that might have once grown new condos are now being eyed as sites for agriculture — large growing plots and winter greenhouses aimed at producing food for more than just family and friends.

In an effort to regulate the new crop of urban farms, Mayor Richard Daley last month presented a proposed ordinance to the City Council. City officials say the new rules are aimed at “nourishing urban agriculture,” but some of Chicago’s top urban farmers believe they will stunt the growth of grass-roots projects.

Crafted by the Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning, the ordinance and its accompanying protocols propose requirements on fencing, plot size, processing, landscaping and zoning that would apply to urban farming in all its forms: commercial production plots, nonprofit farms and community gardens.

“If this passes, our work would be over,” said Erika Allen, of Growing Power, which runs four nonprofit gardens and farms in Chicago. “We couldn’t do any of our projects. They’re all over the size limit. We couldn’t sell produce at our Cabrini-Green farm stand. And some of our expanded projects would also be affected.”

…Zoning spokesman Peter Strazzabosco said he believes such concerns are overblown. Many of the objections are “based on ‘what if’ scenarios that the recommendations already take into account,” he said. “And all of these points will work themselves out.”..
(3 January 2011)

How will growing cities eat?

John R. Porter, Lisa Deutsch, David Dumaresq & Rob Dyball, Nature
Food security should not be ignored when assessing the future of our cities (Nature 467, issue 7318; 2010). Urban populations already comprise more than half of humanity and are expanding. This demographic shift will leave fewer farmers to cultivate the food on which cities depend, exacerbating the 20% decline in the number of farmers over the past 40–50 years.

Food for cities will either have to be sourced from remote locations across the globe, or cities will have to incorporate their own food-production facilities by such developments as peri-urban farming.
(5 January 2011)
Suggested by EB contributor Michael Lardelli and the linked page includes a comment by him. The entire article is behind a paywall. -KS

Peak Fertilizer?

Colleen Scherer, Drovers CattleNetwork
The theory known as “Peak Oil” became popular a few years ago when mainstream media outlets caught on to the concept that there was a finite supply of crude oil in the earth and at some point production would reach past the pinnacle.

Today, a similar theory is being applied to the fertilizer industry: “Peak Fertilizer.” This concept is gaining strength in the agriculture industry and could have significant ramifications for the industry.

Like the “Peak Oil” theory, “Peak Fertilizer” theory is also based on reaching the pinnacle of the production curve.

In the past year, more stories and articles have been popping up claiming that the world is going to run out of phosphorus in the next 20 to 30 years. A recent blog said, “In 2007, Canadian physicist Patrick Dery attempted to apply M. King Hubbard’s work on peak oil to rock phosphate and came to the conclusion that world production actually peaked in 1989. Unlike gas and oil, there are no mineral substitutes for phosphorous. Without phosphorus, plants become ‘phosphorous limited,’ constraining production no matter how many other nutrients can be supplied.”

…So, regardless of whether fertilizer production has reached its global peak or not, fertilizer retailers will need to plan accordingly in the next five to 20 years to handle this dramatic change because what is certain is that fertilizer production in North America has already passed its peak….
(3 January 2011)
Not much new here on the peak phosphorus front, but interesting that the topic is being taken up in an ag industry journal? -KS